Joe Wright veers from mainstream cinema to art house fare with the speed of light. Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007) are kind of both. Whereas The Soloist, Hanna, and Anna Karenina, Wright’s previous three films, are definitely for specialized movie mavens. Hanna in particular shows Wright’s ability at action chops.
Pan has a terrific look. It’s as if Wright knew that once Peter Pan gets to Neverland things will be bold and brassy, so the first act is dark, foreboding, and filled with lots of blown out backgrounds and noirish lighting.
Pan is an origin story. There is no Tinker Bell, but rather swirling fairy dust. Hook (Garrett Hedlund) is in the mix, but he’s a good guy, and Peter’s friend. Tiger Lilly (Rooney Mara) also tags along for a bit, sort of the rebel leader of some jungle nomads. The bad guy is Blackbeard, played by Hugh Jackman with an obvious bad toupee.
Peter (newcomer Levi Miller) and several of his fellow orphans are abducted by repelling pirates hurling from a flying frigate. It seems like not such a bad deal at first since the nuns that run the WWII-era orphanage are dour ogres. Once they get to Neverland however they lads find themselves forced into servitude as pixie dust miners at an enormous hole in the ground.
Here is where Wright shows that he has the right stuff. Up to this point Pan operates under the conventions of a kid’s flick. Then Jackman and a chorus of hundreds of pirates and slaving laborers burst into not one but two songs, obviously not from the 1940s. Perhaps this isn’t Neverland but rather Nevermind. The two songs are “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and “Blitzkrieg Bob.” If you’ve never heard pirates group singing “Hey ho, Let’s go,” you just haven’t lived man.
From now on pretty much anything goes. Wright outdoes this tremendous production number when in the third act he moves to action to a roller coaster universe made of crystal formations and flying ships. The converted 3D makes continuous use of cannon balls shooting right at you. Pan remains a kid’s movie at heart while also adding a cheeky edge for adults.
— Michael Bergeron