“Pan” (2015): Foolhardy Yet Fascinating

J.M. Barrie’s much beloved Peter Pan returns to theaters with Pan (2015) from director Joe Wright and screenwriter Jason Fuchs. The story explores the origins of young Peter before he was known as the boy who can fly. The film follows Peter as he arrives in Neverland and meets James Hook and Tiger Lily for the first time, exploring the themes of friendship and family. It wants to play with the idea that Pan and Hook started off as friends, of sorts. The make things even more awkward, the villain of the film is Blackbeard, the pirate. Pan is a beautiful mess, full of imagination and exquisite set design, wonderfully utilizing 3D to accent its Neverland tale but struggles with its tone and its source material. It may go down to be the guiltiest of guilty pleasures of 2015. The film has dozens of problems, some of them very publicly exploited in the media – such as the casting of Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily. But, it also has its share of energy, enthusiasm and wacky sensibilities. The film is alternatively shackled by its source material having to pander to the Peter Pan mythology, fans and films and injecting some often bizarre new story elements. Seriously, Blackbeard? In the end, the less the attempt to make sense of it all the more it actually makes sense. Pan is  an odd duck but  it entertains far more than disappoints. Guilty pleasure.


Initially set in WWII London, Pan follows a young Peter Pan (Levi Miller) and friends as fellow orphans mysteriously disappear overnight. Whispered that they are shepherded off to new families and homes, Peter suspects something far more devious. He discovers a band of pirates have bartered exchange for the orphans whisking them away at night. Peter is also scooped up and sets sail on a flying pirate ship into the skies above the clouds where he lands in Neverland. Instead of freedom, he and the other orphans are now slaves of the villainous Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Peter catches the eye of James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) who looks to exploit the boy’s newly discovered power of flight to escape the grip of Blackbeard. With the help of Sam Smiegel (Adeel Akhtar), Peter and Hook steal a flying ship, escape and crashland into the wilds of Neverland. Soon, they are captured by the rebels led by their Princess, Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). They must all band together to free Neverland from Blackbeard’s rule…oh, yeah…and protect the fairies.



For Pan, Levi Miller makes for a terrific Peter Pan bringing a natural curiosity and innocence to the role that is different than previous incarnations both live action and animation. This Pan is not yet the boy who can fly, not yet the confident hero. He is the orphan searching for his mother who he desperately believes is still alive. Miller embodies this yearning early in the film quite marvelously. The more his role closes in on the Peter Pan legacy, the less effective his portrayal becomes. It never reaches the typical bravura that Peter Pan often requires; but, to be fair, it is not that story. Unfortunately, both the script and the audience want it to be that story by the time Hook and Tiger Lily are facing off Blackbeard. The film is saddled with leading up to the moment that, quite honestly, should have been delivered far soon in the film, where the boy who can fly soars into the starry skies.


Wright’s Pan wants its audience to believe there is still hope for its version of Captain Hook. Portrayed by Garrett Hedlund, this Hook is more Indiana Jones or Han Solo than the familiar Disney Hook. Hedlund also gives his Hook the oddest of vocalization with over dramatic pauses and strange accenting of seemingly random syllables and words, it sounds like a drunken John Huston impersonation. It is a fascinating choice, but not entirely successful. The script toys with the idea that this Hook and Peter Pan begin as friends and spends time building that relationship. But it is too focused on the notion that they will become enemies to ever sell the kinship idea fully. The entire effort is clouded by knowing too well what is in store for these two, ruining any chance of establishing the nuance and irony to its best emotional conflict. It references what the audience knows far too often in attempts to be hip and pandering that it undermines the entire point of these two characters as partners.


Rounding out our trio of heroes is Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily. The character begin quite strong and mysterious. She is very much the Princess Leia to Hook’s Solo and Pan’s Skywalker. It’s a proven formula and the script capitalizes on that trope. Mara however manages to rise above that stereotype…at first. Once the film falls into its third act, she is sadly reduced to the damsel in distress, albeit one that is a bit more suited to fight back a bit more. She is at her strongest when she is involved in the festivities of her multi-cultural tribe of Neverland or saving Pan from Blackbeard’s initial attack. At this point, she quickly becomes the most interesting thing about the whole film. But instead of making the most of this strong female character, she is suddenly reduced to the object of the misguided affections of James Hook and is sequestered with handling the rest of the film’s exposition. Too bad.


The most eccentric and provocative performance may go to Hugh Jackman however as Blackbeard. Addressing his captives in song, such as Nivana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit or The Ramone’s Blitzgrieg Bop, Jackman prances around the ships deck in the grandest of deliciously entertaining over acting of the year. It suits the idea the film wants to bring to the role of Blackbeard, but is again another sharp left turn from expectation. It one respect it is quite bold, in another it is off-putting. Jackman is fully invested in his performance, over the top and extravagant. It is just that all the pieces do not necessarily add up to a fully satisfying whole. The costume suggest one thing, the acting and singing another, while the story and the scenery yet another entirely. Jackman’s Blackbeard, regardless of its unconventional entertaining tone, represents what the entire film struggles with: tone. It is all over the place, throwing darts here, tossing ideas there, hoping something sticks. Blackbeard, as a character, has these qualities as well, leaving the audience scratching its head as often as realizing a broad smile.


Character misgivings and source material conflicts aside, director Joe Wright handles the imagination and action of Pan with marvelous flair and style. There is a kinetic, vigorous energy Wright establishes as soon as the pirate ship sails off with Pan towards Neverland. He fully champions this approach for the rest of the film nearly banging against each wall barely missing disaster as his soars off to the next obstacle. It is as if he is strapped in behind his camera like a jockey on his horse, as the camera zooms off to sights unseen, the wind in his hair and a huge, goofy grin on his face. He also handles the 3D in way that is much stronger than most films in the past year. He has a keen eye on foreground to background, making this one of the better 3D films of the year. It helps that the environment is fully supportive of 3D with flying ships, rich visuals and plenty of soaring and floating object to toy with. Pan is visually splendid.


Pan is not a horrible disaster that early trailer suggested it might become. It wants to be far more than it is however. The film is delightful, whimsical and entertaining. It is also mired by its source material, the expectations that come with Peter Pan and the pop-culture memories of Pan, Hook and fellow characters. It is the unnecessary introduction to the themes and story most everyone is already well aware of. The more this baggage can be left at the ticket booth, the more successful Pan can become. It has a playful spirit and an energetic tone that keeps the film brisk and lighthearted. It can be a charming film if allowed to live in its own extravagant notions and desires. Levi Miller is promising as Peter Pan giving the film an emotional core needed for approaching the film’s yearning for family, be it a lost mother or a new band of friends. Garrett Hedlund balances delicately on the thinest of wires developing the lopsided character of a pre-Captain James Hook while Rooney Mara impresses early with her Tiger Lily before the film fails her in the third act. Hugh Jackman steps into Pan from another film altogether simultaneously keeping the film aloft and tossing is asunder with every step, every song and every word, which is kind of amazing to watch. See the film in 3D if possible, Pan is a story that wants to serve its source material but is best enjoyed by leaving that material behind.

Pan 2.8 out of 5 stars (2.8 / 5)

Doc Rotten
Editor-In-Chief / Founder / Podcast Producer at Horror News Radio
Doc Rotten is the founder of Gruesome Magazine. He is also a film critic for Gruesome Magazine and the podcast host & producer for Horror News Radio, Monster Movie Podcast, Decades of Horror: 1970s, The American Horror Story Fan Podcast and Hannibal Fan Podcast. He is also co-host of the Dracula podcast on TV TALK and is a contributing reviewer for HorrorNews.Net and Widescreen Warrior.

Doc a lifelong fan of horror films, sci-fi flicks and monster movies first discovering Universal Monsters and Planet of the Apes as a young child in the 1970's searching out every issue of Famous Monster of Filmland (and, later, Fangoria). Favorite films include Jaws, The Car, The Birds, The Tingler, Vampire Circus and The Exorcist. Still a huge fan of horror films from the 70s, Doc continues consuming horror films to this day for the site, for the podcasts and for the fun of it all.