The Peter Pan story has been told in many different ways since J.M. Barrie invented the character in the early 1900s, but rarely have we been shown how Peter actually came to be the boy who never grows up. In deference to the many comic book movies flooding theaters in recent years, we’re finally getting Peter’s origin story with Pan.
In Pan, Peter (Levi Miller) is left on the doorstep of an orphanage by his mother for unknown reasons. After living in relative squalor for 12 years, he and many other orphans are kidnapped by pirates, led by Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), and transported to Neverland. Their purpose there is to mine the land for rocks containing pixie dust, a mysterious substance that gives everlasting life.
Peter doesn’t fit in with the rest of the kidnapped orphans, a fact recognized by a fellow worker, James Hook (Garrett Hedlund). When Peter unexpectedly discovers he has the power of flight, he and Hook decide to try to help each other and figure out a way to escape Blackbeard’s clutches.
Directed by Joe Wright, Pan displays a visual panache that helps the film overcome its shortcomings. Wright and his team hardly ever miss a chance to try to wow the audience, using both practical and special effects. From flying pirate ships to glowing pixie dust to bursting flashes of color during battles, the film is a wonder to watch virtually from beginning to end.
It’s especially fun seeing the way they use the familiar iconography of Peter Pan to play with various key moments. The character of Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), a giant crocodile, and Tinkerbell are all used in slightly unexpected ways so as to set the film apart from other incarnations of the story.
The film does drag a bit during the middle of its nearly two-hour running time, and the dialogue by screenwriter Jason Fuchs could have used some punching up. But Wright and the performances by the main actors keep things exciting, and the end of the film delivers an emotional wallop that’s well deserved.
Miller, a virtual unknown, makes for an appealing Peter. He’s neither overly cutesy nor overly rehearsed, giving a performance that feels completely natural. Jackman gets to ham it up as Blackbeard, and he chews the scenery for all it’s worth. He definitely goes overboard a time or two, but it doesn’t hurt the role or the movie. Both Hedlund and Mara live up to their previous good performances, as well.
Even though it’s not technically based on Barrie’s work, Pan does nothing to discredit the legacy of Peter Pan, and it has a lot to offer viewers whether they’re familiar with the story or not.