“Home isn’t where you’re from; it’s where you make it.”
Pan begins with a CGI starscape and a narration promising that “this isn’t the story you’ve heard before.” This statement is sort-of true. While it’s a prequel featuring the introduction of Peter into Neverland and an unlikely friendship with the future captain, Hook, the story itself is pretty well-worn territory. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful film with great acting and is an enjoyable ride from start to finish.
Unlike most CGI-filled blockbusters, which pour out an endless stream of sensory overload and call it a day, Pan takes great efforts to make its fantasy world of Neverland feel believable instead of merely window dressing. Sweeping CGI shots are offset by gorgeous sets, and battles between flying pirate ships are balanced out by exhilarating fistfights on unique sets (and with surprisingly hard punches for a PG film).
The script is a bit shallow, but the performances easily make up for it. James Hook is a stock Indiana Jones/Han Solo archetype, but Garret Hedlund is just a joy to watch. He sounds like a highly caffeinated cross between Christian Slater and Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy. Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard has some interesting characterization going on, with his plan being the genocide of fairies to prolong his own life with their pixie dust. Jackman goes into full Pirates of the Caribbean mode, and then goes miles beyond in terms of wardrobe and scenery-chewing, delivering the most obscenely hammy performance of his career. Combined with his evil/genius appropriation of beloved rock and roll songs as sea shanties, turning messages of rebellion into a celebration of submission, the dastardly pirate captain is nothing short of amazing.
The heart of the story, of course, is Peter himself. Levi Miller gives a great performance as the orphan-turned savior, even though there are pitifully few twists in his uninspired, if well-executed, arc. Rooney Mara plays Tiger Lily, the warrior princess of Neverland’s native tribe, and gets to kick a ton of butt and deliver some exposition, though she doesn’t get the chance to ham it up the way most of the other actors do, being the stoic leader of her people.
The CGI isn’t entirely up to the golden standard of Avatar, but the occasional rough edges simply add to the film’s charm. A few shots featuring close-ups of entirely animated characters could have used a bit more time in the oven, but this is a relatively minor issue since the world is otherwise so fully realized.
Pan’s script takes no chances, but the film succeeds in spite of this based on its visuals, acting, and pure sense of adventure. Although it is a Peter Pan story, it more often attempts to capture the spirit of Star Wars, and it succeeds in drawing out in viewers the sense of wonder and emotional attachment as only the best adventures can. At it’s core, it may be just an imitation of more beloved stories, but the best imitations are still more than capable of leaving an impression.