Calling your movie Pan is asking for it, really. Not that I’m exactly panning Pan **, but I just wish I could have praised it more.
Joe Wright’s prequel (though not chronologically) to JM Barrie’s Peter Pan is bursting with visual wizardry and brio but like an over-stuffed toy box, you’re left with a bit of a mess.
The stuff at the start of this awfully busy adventure is terrific fun – little Peter (played by Levi Miller) is abandoned in an orphanage run by the greedy Mother Barnabas, as embodied all-too briefly by the great Kathy Burke. During a Blitz-time raid, Peter is swept away by a flying pirate ship and, amid spitfires and doodlebugs, transported to Neverland.
All this has the right sense of wonder, a Disney-ish charm recalling everything from Mary Poppins to One of our Dinosaurs is Missing. And the arrival in Blackbeard’s lair is no less impressive, evoking Apocalypse Now, Mad Max and Sebastian Salgado images mixed with Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Then Wright’s grip on unreality slips. There’s a bit of Indiana Jones, a lot of Baz Luhrmann, a dash of Star Wars and Matrix-style messiah mythology, big blobs of Jurassic Park. While trying to be the British Spielberg, Joe Wright loses his own voice – or maybe its the result of a studio suddenly fretting over its $150 million budget, not knowing how to get the best out of the story teller it hired and ordering him to throw lots of CGI fairy dust at it in the hope that it sticks.
Some of it does. The relentless adventures are, to use Barrie’s words, “crammed”, certainly, but come like video game levels rather than chapters or scenes. There’s no real sense of danger, no character development, no time for humour to register or find its spot. It’s loud and it made my head hurt, like attending a Christmas panto with a hangover.
There are great things here – Rooney Mara’s costumes (Jaqueline Durran, brilliant again), Hugh Jackman’s hair, the young lead’s performance, the pirates, the contraptions – but they don’t string together. There’s a thin line between post-modern mash-up and frightful mess, and Im not sure Wright knew where it was. I do think children will like it well enough, but I fear not enough to rescue it from the pile marked “Slightly Soiled”.