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

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…

Garage freak? Jesus. What kind of a crazy fucking story is this?

All the President’s Men (1976)
It’s fairly routine to find that films lavished with awards ceremony attention really aren’t all that. So many factors go into lining them up, including studio politics, publicity and fashion, that the true gems are often left out in the cold. On some occasions all the attention is thoroughly deserved, however. All the President’s Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture Oscar; an uplifting crowd-pleaser beat an unrepentantly low key, densely plotted and talky political thriller. But Alan J. Pakula’s film had already won the major victory; it turned a literate, uncompromising account of a resolutely unsexy and over-exposed news story into a huge hit. And even more, it commanded the respect of its potentially fiercest (and if roused most venomous) critics; journalists themselves. All the President’s Men is a masterpiece and with every passing year it looks more and more like a paean to a bygone age, one where the freedom of the press was assumed rather than a…

You’re the Compliance Officer. It’s your call.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
(SPOILERS) The mealy-mouthed title speaks volumes about the uncertainty with which Tom Clancy’s best-known character has been rebooted. Paramount has a franchise that has made a lot of money, based on a deeply conservative, bookish CIA analyst (well, he starts out that way). How do you reconfigure him for a 21st century world (even though he already has been, back in 2003) where everything he stands for is pretty much a dirty word? The answer, it seems, is to go for an all-purpose sub-James Bond plan to bring American to its knees, with Ryan as a fresh (-ish) recruit (you know, like Casino Royale!) and surprising handiness in a fight. Yes, Jack is still a smart guy (and also now, a bit, -alec), adept at, well, analysing, but to survive in the modern franchise sewer he needs to be more than that. He needs to kick arse. And wear a hoodie. This confusion, inability to coax a series into being what it’s supposed to be, might explain the sour response to its …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

Oh look, there’s Colonel Mortimer, riding down the street on a dinosaur!

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975)
(SPOILERS) There’s no getting round the dinosaur skeleton in the room here: yellow face. From the illustrious writer-director team who brought us Mary Poppins, no less. Disney’s cheerfully racist family movie belongs to a bygone era, but appreciating its merits doesn’t necessarily requires one to subscribe to the Bernard Manning school of ethnic sensitivity.

I’m not going to defend the choice, but, if you can get past that, and that may well be a big if, particularly Bernard Bresslaw’s Fan Choy (if anything’s an unwelcome reminder of the Carry Ons lesser qualities, it’s Bresslaw and Joan Sims) there’s much to enjoy. For starters, there’s two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Ustinov (as mastermind Hnup Wan), funny in whatever he does (and the only Poirot worth his salt), eternally berating his insubordinate subordinate Clive Revill (as Quon).

This is a movie where, even though its crude cultural stereotyping is writ large, the dialogue frequen…

It's not an exact science, this business.

The Mummy (2017)
(SPOILERS) A pinch of salt is usually needed when reports of a blockbuster’s rep as great or disastrous start singing from the same song sheet, as more often than not, they’re somewhere in between. A week ago, Wonder Woman was being hailed as some kind of miracle (or wonder), when really, it’s just another decent-but-formulaic superhero movie. This week, there have been post-mortems up the wazoo over The Mummy’s less-than-remarkable opening gross (which have a predictably US-centric flavour; it’s still the biggest global figure for a Tom Cruise movie). Is The Mummy as terrible as has been made out? No, of course not. It isn’t particularly good, but that doesn’t make it significantly worse than any dozen or so mediocre blockbusters you’d care to pick that have been lavished with far less opprobrium.

The thinking behind the savaging is understandable, though. There’s so much hubris on display here, it’s ridiculous, from Universal assuming they can fashion a Dark Universe …

The head is missing... and... he's the wrong age.

Twin Peaks 3.7: There’s a body all right.
First things first: my suggestion that everyone’s favourite diminutive hitman, Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, had been hired by the Mitchum brothers was clearly erroneous in the extreme, although the logistics of how evil Coop had the contingency plan in place to off Lorraine and Dougie-Coop remains a little unclear right now. As is how he was banged up with the apparent foresight to have on hand ready blackmail tools to ensure the warden would get him out (and why did he wait so long about it, if he could do it off the bat?)


Launching right in with no preamble seems appropriate for his episode, since its chock-a-block with exposition and (linear) progression, almost an icy blast of what settles for reality in Twin Peaks after most of what has gone before this season, the odd arm-tree aside. Which might please James Dyer, who in the latest Empire “The Debate”, took the antagonistic stance to the show coming back and dismissed it as “gibbering nonsen…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

I have a problem with my liver.

Twin Peaks 3.6 Don’t die
The season resumes form with the sixth episode, and incongruity abounds – as much as anything in Twin Peaks is any more or less incongruous than anything else – from the most endearing to the most alarming. The latter of which is up there with the very nastiest nastiness witnessed in a David Lynch joint in the form of butcher for hire Ike “The Spike” Stadtler (Christophe Zajac-Denek), the most alarming killer dwarf since Donald Sutherland led himself on a wild goose chase around Venice in Don’t Look Now.


Lynch’s use of music in Don’t die is both eclectic and exemplary. He concludes with Sharon von Etten crooning Tarifa over the credits, but it’s Ike going on a bloody frenzy to the innocuous and innocent sound of BluntedBeatz’ “I AM” Oldschool HipHop Beat that really sets the episode on edge. This is Lynch at his most visceral, immediate and palpably perturbing. You hear it before you see it, the screams of the first victim in Lorraine’s office, before the pint-…

If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you're a princess.

Moana (2016)
(SPOILERS) Disney’s 56th animated feature (I suppose they can legitimately exclude Song of the South – which the Mouse House would rather forget about completely – on the grounds it’s a live action/animation hybrid) feels like one of their most rigidly formulaic yet, despite its distinctive setting and ethnicity. It probably says a lot about me that I tend to rate this kind of fare for its wacky animal sidekick as opposed to the studiously familiar hero’s journey of Moana’s title character.


You can even see the John Lasseter-Pixar influence in the fricking cute kids burbling through the opening scenes, before Moana (Auli’I Cravalho) arrives at teenagehood and heirdom to becoming the tribal chief on the Polynesian island of Motunui. And you can tick off the boxes of your Disney female protagonist required to prove herself (over-protective father opposing her desire to get out there and explore the world, meeting an unsympathetic male in whom she instils emotional growth). T…