By Bill Arceneaux
What does “Smells Like Teen Spirit” have to do with Peter Pan? I don’t know, but it was fun. Why was a young Hook talking like a character from O Brother Where Art Though? I don’t know, but it worked. How come colorful smoke replaced human blood? I don’t know, but… I don’t know. Decisions, decisions, decisions. Directorial decisions.
A movie most baffling, Pan is quite a distracting show of lights. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s loud, it’s proud. Good? That depends on your personal threshold for oddities. And this is one large oddity. The only comparable movies from this year that I can think of would be Jupiter Ascending and Chappie. Those two were fun because they were weird. Because of the decisions made. Because they exist.
It’s a what if style retelling of the origins of the beloved Peter Pan and his domain of Neverland, It’s also mired in clichés and the all too familiar. As an orphan during WW2, Peter is scooped up by inter dimensional (?) pirates to work in a fairy dust mine, at the behest of Blackbeard. From here, we meet a young adult Hook, who starts a Luke/Han friendship with Peter. From here, we meet the very Caucasian Tiger Lily, who tells of a chosen one prophecy that Peter will fulfill. From here, we get adventure shenanigans, lackluster swordfights and over the top effects. And, from here, the story of Pan’s beginning is told. Maybe not understood or cared for, but told nonetheless.
So… why is this movie fun?
Filmmaker Joe Wright is bombastic. Perhaps it gets blurry from time to time, but his visions are a sight for sore eyes. Pan is so chock full of bright visuals, both original and referential, that they hold our attention completely. Imaginative sequences and stunts within the brightness help move that attention along, even past the rudimentary story elements. Wright understands the parameters of classic cinema, and knows how to break away when need be. If this were a silent production, it might be spectacular. However, as a talkie, the glorious look just can’t be relied on throughout by itself.
While Jupiter Ascending was more bonkers, and Chappie was more edgy (if you will), Pan is more… clever? More… creative? More… well rounded? It’s certainly more something. And that something is what I dig about it. Sometimes, sticking out in a crowd makes you unique. Though, sometimes, there isn’t much under the surface than that. Can sheer appearance be all you need?
I don’t know, but…