It seems that Peter Pan not only won’t grow up, he won’t go away. It was bad enough sitting through a season of the TV series “Once Upon a Time” that dealt with the back story of the ageless hero from the J.M. Barrie book and suffering through the TV musical adaptation with Christopher Walken turning Capt. Hook into a stumbling hoofer.
Now, Pan is back with this big-screen adaptation written by Jason Fuchs (“Ice Age: Continental Drift”) and director Joe Wright (“Anna Karenina”). Except for a spirited performance by Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard, their efforts won’t send you flying to theaters to see it or out of the theaters if you do.
The best that can be said about “Pan” is it’s an OK tale that picks up in the closing moments with a large and loud action sequence.
Relative newcomer Levi Miller plays Peter, an orphan who shows his rebellious streak against the food-hording nuns who run the boys orphanage where he’s living during World War II. Peter knows that his mother will return one day to take him away from this facility that makes the “Oliver” lodgings look posh.
Peter gets his chance when a group of bungee jumping pirates grab him and a handful of other orphans. The pirates – under the command of Blackbeard (Jackman) – take the orphans back to Neverland where they are made to mine Pixie dust. Blackbeard huffs the stuff like a Crystal Meth addict.
While working in the mines, Peter meets Hook (Garrett Hedlund), a cowboy who delivers every line like he’s channeling Jack Nicholson from the final scene of “A Few Good Men.”They escape and end up with the local natives who have been told of a boy savior who can fly. Peter found out he has that skill by accident but hasn’t quite figured out where his flying on and off switch is located.
Just like the rest of the movie, Hedlund falls into a middle ground. His acting is not strong enough in the action sequences or as a leading man to carry the performance or to deliver the emotional pull. Levi’s equally middle of the road as Peter. His performance works in connecting the emotional elements of finding his mother, but when doing the flying sequences he is stiff and cheesy.
Wright’s direction could have used a few more happy thoughts. There are moments when the film looks like a serious telling of the Peter Pan legends. Moments later it turns into a odd Cirque du Soleil number where the natives turn into puffs of colorful smoke when they are shot. There are even moments when the film slips into musical form, with some odd renditions of tunes that are anachronistic to the rest of the story. It worked in a film like “A Knight’s Tale” because it was consistent. Its use here looks like Wright just gets bored with the idea and moves on to something else.
Trying to hold it all together is Jackman, whose delivers a performance that is part Cyril Ritchard as Hook and part Angus Macfadyen as Blackbeard. At times, Wright makes him buffonish – such as his vanity over his hair – and at times quite evil – as in his method of dealing with the fairies. Jackman does his best. But the movie is so mired in mediocrity, it’s hard to rise above the cinematic horizon.
Casting Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily would have worked better had her wardrobe not looked like it came from the set of a 1950s Bob Hope comedy. It’s weird when an outfit can be so wrong that it distracts from the actor’s performance.
Such is the unevenness of “Pan.”
Wright’s Peter Pan complex is that he never allowed his film to mature into a tense action and adventure story or a bold comedy. It’s a mishmash of ideas that aren’t bad. They just aren’t that good either.
- Rated PG-13 for language, violence
- Stars: Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara, Garrett Hedlund
- Directed by Joe Wright
- Running time: 111 minutes
- Opens Friday, Oct. 9