In the search to escape adult life, look no further than Pan, Director Joe Wright’s latest film that brings back the wonderful world of childhood imagination. Pan is the magical telling of the origin story of J.M. Barrie’s children’s literature hero Peter Pan (Levi Miller), as he travels from an orphanage run by evil nuns in war torn London, to the journey between worlds on a flying pirate ship, to the terrible mining pits controlled by the pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) and the fantastical dangerous tropics of Neverland.
Peter is a mischievous character with striking blue eyes, who is innocent, honest and brave. The villain, Blackbeard is larger than life, introduced while overlooking his mines where millions of his workers begin chanting Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit.” Though Blackbeard is very entertaining, he is quite a dark character who rules as a dictator over miserable anarchy where children are thrown from the plank to fall to their deaths. The plot centres around Blackbeard’s secret objective to mine for magical pixie dust that will allow Blackbeard to live together; however, this industrialization is rapidly destroying nature and poses a great threat to the health of Neverland. Along the way, Peter builds a friendship with Hook, (Garret Hedlund), who in this adaptation sheds his former villain image and instead plays an Indiana Jones-esque character. Peter is further given support by Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), who helps him discover who he is and changes both Peter’s and Hook’s perspective of Neverland and helping them save the day.
The worlds created in Pan are distinctive, contrasting between the darkness of war-torn London and the vivid, dangerous Neverland. The latter is truly a dream world—an overwhelming experience full of vivid colors, magical animals, mermaids, alligators, and fairies. This setting is fully detached from the real world and one of pure fantastical imagination.
One unfortunate point of the film is the representation of the ‘Tribe,’ specifically the casting of Mara. Tiger Lily is an explicitly Native American character and should have been played by a Native American actress rather than being another instance in which Hollywood white washes a minority group. All directors are entitled to creative freedom, yet this must be balanced by their responsibility to society. Wright should have taken the opportunity to allow minority groups to depict themselves and their culture on screen.
At times the storyline is lacking, and the audience is left wanting a greater explanation of the character’s actions. Also, the darker aspects of the film—child labor, warfare and uncontrollable industrialization—are not well addressed and remain difficult to reconcile with the rest of the film. The friendship of Hook and Peter is a nice twist on the original Peter Pan stories but falls into the repetitive trope of the goodness in traditional villains, reminding us all once again that characters and neither completely good or bad, expressing their greater humanity.
Overall, although the film has problems, Pan is ultimately a success; teaching the audience all of the power of believing. Though it can seem stupid when people say “Believe in yourself,”