After helming A-grade period pieces Pride &Prejudice and Atonement, director Joe Wright fell into a slump of back to back duds with The Soloist, Hanna, and Anna Karenina. It appears that same trend continues with Warner Bros. misfire Pan, an origin story to the character Peter Pan created by J.M. Barrie.
It’s frustrating to see a once promising director throw his potential away on such mediocre fare, but at the very least, all of them have shown inventiveness and gorgeous attention to detail despite their failings, and the same is true with Pan. Despite being an objectively bad and nonsensical movie, it’s still such an entertaining mess to behold.
Joe Wright’s main influence when making this film was the memory of a puppetry theater that his parents once owned and operated, with this film set to be his gateway to relive those childhood memories. That being the case, I would be fascinated to see what kind of trippy puppet shows they put on with how wild this film is. The screenplay by Jason Fuchs is some near-incomprehensible nonsense, with the first fifteen minutes emulating Oliver Twist, with Peter residing in what must be the orphanage run by the corrupt nuns from Philomena, who for reasons not given explanation offer children to Neverland pirates in exchange for payment. That’s the first twenty minutes of the film, and it only gets weirder from there, essentially becoming Treasure-Island-meets-Moulin-Rouge.
As events continually build up in their over the top nature, with miner children and pirates singing chain gang covers of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Blitzkrieg Bop”, giant birds with cartoonish giant eyes and skeleton cage bodies, guns that transform their victims into fluorescent colored powders, right down to CG-Cara Delevingne mermaids, the film quickly becomes a trippy and out of control cluster of randomness.
Such things don’t work in any objective fashion, but as a so ridiculous its fun piece of entertainment, it’s wonderful. At the very least, no one can accuse Joe Wright of never committing to his vision with full investment. Even though it was destined to fail one way or another, it’s admirable to see a director know what kind of film he wants to make, and tackles it all with such infectious enthusiasm. It may not make much sense in any practical way, but it does make for a richly entertaining misfire.
This carries over into the performances especially. As Garret Hedlund mugs and mumbles like a Jack Nicholson character and Rooney Mara plays the wise-beyond-her-years warrior princess, they’re both eclipsed by a majestically hammy and scenery devouring Hugh Jackman. Essentially playing what Eddie Redmayne’s Jupiter Ascending character should have been, the role sees Jackman instantaneously jump from quiet and sinister to loud and ballistic at the blink of an eye, with said sudden shifts often eliciting snickers with their erratic changes, and yet Jackman just makes the character too much fun to resist.
Pan is also a gorgeously designed movie at that, and while its photography is sometimes muddy and unpolished, and much of the CGI looking straight out of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the practicality of all other technical merits are undeniably lush, from Jacqueline Durran’s colorful costumes to John Powell’s thrilling swashbuckling compositions. So, while Pan is a C- misfire in many areas, there’s still plenty of fun – both ironic and sincere – to be had from its A-grade insanity. “Here we are now! Entertain us”, indeed.
** / *****