Skip to main content

You’re not even special in your own way.

Pan
(2016)

(SPOILERS) An inexcusably wretched excrescence, and perhaps a lesson to those who think Disney makes it look easy, refashioning fairy tales for undiscerning young audiences ready and waiting to lap them up. Pan, or rather Pan: Origins, would, I think it’s safe to say, emphatically not meet with JM Barrie's approval. It’s a listless, drama-free mess, smeared with a muddy, ugly, “realist” aesthetic that someone hunched at a Hollywood editing desk presumably believe audiences can’t get enough of. Worst of all, Pan lacks any sense of wonder, magic, and most importantly, fun.


Ironically, Hanna, director Joe Wright’s last-but-one film, offered an engaging, invigorating modern fairy tale, one that didn't need to spell everything out, but had it all right there in the design and character tensions. Here, every element seems to be a reaction against something, a strategic attempt to anticipate the predominate trend yet fatally misunderstanding that formula at the expense of invention will eventually see you come a cropper.


Pan finds Warner Bros seduced by the prospect of a Harry Potter-esque, sequel-spinning, chosen-one origins tale, as a transposed Oliver Twist ragamuffin is transported from a blitz besieged orphanage to a particularly grim Neverland (wartime London is sketched out with more sense of artistry; at least there’s a degree generic nostalgia involved). Despite occupying dubious terrain to start with – the last couple of Pans haven't exactly set the world on fire, and in particular, Spielberg’s messing with the myth provoked critical derision – screenwriter Jason Fuchs has gone ahead with his own botched vision of a pre-Wendy era, when “friends began as enemies and enemies as friends”.


Perhaps he saw Black Sails, leading to a lazy speculation over what happened before in another much loved children’s piratical tale. Whatever hooked him, he’s equipped with none of the inspiration or resources to fashion anything halfway decent. Pan and Hook become friends, enslaved by Blackbeard… 


So Blackbeard is essentially in the Hook role, and Hook is essentially Han Solo. With Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara; the casting controversy pales in comparison to the general atrocity of the picture) as the Princess Leia type, and Pan as Luke. It’s all very tiresome, and worst of all tedious (at one point, Hook departs at a crucial moment, only to return in his flying ship to save the day). Digesting all that, we ought to be very afraid for Wonder Woman’s chances of being less than horrible (on which Fuchs gets sole screenwriting credit).


You might have expected Hugh Jackman, a reliable, charismatic actor, to get to grips with Hook Blackbeard, but aside from some notable facial appliances and costuming, he flourishes entirely forgettable ham. Say what you like about Hook, but Dustin Hoffman’s performance was note-perfect. And funny. Blackbeard tries to be funny, or Jackman does, but the screenplay is wit-bereft.


To be fair to Hedlund, he’s reasonable as the roguish hero, and Rooney Mara has down the stern-but-charmed monarch thing (she’s also kick-ass, because no screenwriter worthless of their salt doesn't turn every female lead into a Buffy clone), but he bears no resemblance to the kind of character – or actor – who could one day pull off the villain role (which is surely the intent, had this franchise non-starter not hit the rocks). Ezra Miller isn't quite bad, but he hasn't got what he needs for lead duties; the poor lad’s asked to take too many emotional turns, and his decidedly non-scruff, RP accent leaks through quite frequently.


Fuchs takes the paraphernalia of the characters and makes the most uninventive meal of it; Pan is the stuff of a prophecy, and wears pan pipes round his neck as a banal signpost for why he is called what he is called. Blackbeard, in the most mundane and literal grounding of the fantastic, is mining pixie dust to keep himself young.


Every choice Joe Wright makes as a director is ham-fisted, so he’s nothing if not consistent. There have been ardent critics of his acumen in the past, notably his self-conscious take on Anna Karenina, but I unreservedly liked both Pride and Prejudice and Hanna. This is enough to give anyone pause, however. His World War II renders a tiresome steampunk fantasy of spitfires attack a flying sailing ship. It’s the sort of visual that might once have been evocative, but is now commonplace, the kind of torrid concoction Steven Moffat would slaver across one of his Doctor Who Christmas specials.


There’s also a feeling that Wright has been watching Gilliam, yet completely misunderstand his genius. In particular, the ship in space, complete with constellations, and then the cartoonish neverbirds, evoke the Moon sequence from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but absent the humour, eccentricity, or stylistic temperament. the neverbirds are entirely out of place, not least in terms of the effects failing to marry with the visual tone (and generally, for such an expensive film, Pan’s seams show very frequently).


When Peter arrives in Neverland, we’re greeted by a now infamous rendition of Smells Like Teen Spirit, included because it seemed like a good idea to Wright at the time (we’re also treated to the Ramones’ Bliztkrieg Pop). The issue isn’t that its anachronistic, it’s that its entirely lethargic, lacking spark or brio, much like the barren – but expensively so – colour palette. John Powell’s score is entirely awful, attempting to evoke the mood of family romps of yesteryear – ironically, given the adult pop –  but instead importing an “Isn’t this a wondrous lark?” inertia that proves fatal. It really is as if Wright is trying to make a panto: a $150m panto.


There are the usual escapes and captures, and the climax is a succession of shipboard fights and giant glowing crystals, lacking a modicum of excitement. Pan must prove his chosen status, but Miller’s ill-equipped to deliver (particularly in the reunion with the ma he has no memory of, which also appears to provide the closure he surely shouldn’t have in order to decide not to grow up). Along the way, the attempts at knowing, post-modern humour are sadly to be expected, complete with allusions to what is to come. Inevitably, they further serve to divest this telling of any awe at all (“Why wouldn’t there be a secret map to a magic kingdom?”)


Is there anything good here? Kathy Burke makes a suitably gruesome nun, and a sequence where Hook fights Tinkerbell’s chosen warrior at least has a certain knockabout energy, but such morsels are few and far between. Disney need not worry that this version of Peter Pan may undermine their plans for a live-action retelling, but they maybe should be given pause that the faithful-but-expensive 2003 adaptation also failed to connect with audiences.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

We’ll bring it out on March 25 and we’ll call it… Christmas II!

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
(SPOILERS) Alexander Salkind (alongside son Ilya) inhabited not dissimilar territory to the more prolific Dino De Laurentis, in that his idea of manufacturing a huge blockbuster appeared to be throwing money at it while being stingy with, or failing to appreciate, talent where it counted. Failing to understand the essential ingredients for a quality movie, basically, something various Hollywood moguls of the ‘80s would inherit. Santa Claus: The Movie arrived in the wake of his previously colon-ed big hit, Superman: The Movie, the producer apparently operating under the delusion that flying effects and :The Movie in the title would induce audiences to part with their cash, as if they awarded Saint Nick a must-see superhero mantle. The only surprise was that his final cinematic effort, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, wasn’t similarly sold, but maybe he’d learned his lesson by then. Or maybe not, given the behind-camera talent he failed to secure.

On a long enough timeline, the survival of everyone drops to zero.

Fight Club (1999)
(SPOILERS) Still David Fincher’s peak picture, mostly by dint of Fight Club being the only one you can point to and convincingly argue that that the source material is up there with his visual and technical versatility. If Seven is a satisfying little serial-killer-with-a-twist story vastly improved by his involvement (just imagine it directed by Joel Schumacher… or watch 8mm), Fight Club invites him to utilise every trick in the book to tell the story of not-Tyler Durden, whom we encounter at a very peculiar time in his life.

When primal forces of nature tell you to do something, the prudent thing is not to quibble over details.

Field of Dreams (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s a near-Frank Darabont quality to Phil Alden Robinson producing such a beloved feature and then subsequently offering not all that much of note. But Darabont, at least, was in the same ballpark as The Shawshank Redemption with The Green MileSneakers is good fun, The Sum of All Our Fears was a decent-sized success, but nothing since has come close to his sophomore directorial effort in terms of quality. You might put that down to the source material, WP Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe, but the captivating magical-realist balance hit by Field of Dreams is a deceptively difficult one to strike, and the biggest compliment you can play Robinson is that he makes it look easy.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…