Pan (2015)

2016 #115
Joe Wright | 111 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA, UK & Australia / English | PG / PG

Pan12-year-old Peter (Levi Miller) lives in an orphanage in World War 2 London… until the night pirates bungee in through the ceiling and kidnap a bunch of boys onto their flying galleon. Yes, really. From there it’s second star to the right and straight on ’til morning as the pirates take their new charges to Neverland, where they’re forced into the Mad Max-esque mining operator of Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). When it turns out Peter can fly, a friendly chap by the name of Hook (Garrett Hedlund) helps him escape, and they head off to find Peter’s destiny, etc — he’s some kind of prophesied Chosen One, because of course he is.

For me, that overripe “Chosen One” arc is the weakest element of Pan. Even then, it’s by no means the worst example in fiction, and it’s executed with a degree of fun and commitment that keeps it entertaining. Otherwise, this is an exciting and enjoyable fantasy adventure, best commended for its inventive, well-realised visuals and colourful design, which when it really clicks can be quite incredible. I suppose that might not be enough to overcome a familiar plot for some viewers, but it eases the way in this particular example. And even if the general arc is a bit rote, there are some quite clever spots of construction and/or references to the original. For instance, Peter can’t read (because Wendy will later teach him), but that also pays off within the film when it turns out he can read the fairy language. On the downside, it doesn’t actually directly connect up to Peter Pan, suggesting someone hoped there’d be sequels — because centring a live-action franchise around a boy who doesn’t age is a great idea.

As said boy, Levi Miller manages to make Peter not intensely irritating, which is an achievement compared to other adaptations. Some of that is surely inherited from the writing and directing, but Miller gives a strong performance too. Hugh Jackman hams it up magnificently as Blackbeard, clearly having a riot. Rooney Mara may be miscast due to the colour of her skin (for all the complaints about whitewashing, her tribe is shown to be mixed race… which doesn’t necessarily excuse it), but her actual performance is very good. I felt like Garrett Hedlund was doing an impersonation of someone but I never quite got a handle on who (the character’s definitely written to be Han Solo, but the actor’s not copying Harrison Ford). Adele Akhtar brings comedy as Hook’s chum, Sam ‘Smee’ Smiegel, there are cameos of varying purpose from Amanda Seyfried and Kathy Burke, and Nonso Anozie is always a welcome presence, here playing Blackbeard’s henchman. Cara Delevingne doesn’t act so much as provide a human reference for the CGI.

I also really liked the score, by John Powell of How to Train Your Dragon. It’s probably not groundbreaking or anything, but it’s suitably adventurous and epic-y. That said, there have been some very odd choices in the music department, like the massive Smells Like Teen Spirit sing-along. Because it’s entirely out of context (as noted, the film is set during World War 2) it plays like a Moulin Rouge rip-off. It’s also not a consistently-executed notion: there are nods at other songs, but they’re not as famous (the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop, for instance, which I only know thanks to the end credits) so they don’t stick out quite as incongruously.

Having found Pan to be a very likeable fantasy adventure, I confess to being slightly confused by the response that saw it soundly trounced by most critics and viewers. The review on makes the assertion that “today’s movie audience has become so instinctively sophisticated when it comes to CGI-enhanced action sequences that no one can predict what they’ll like”, which I thought was pretty insightful — when does “amazing spectacle” tip over into “oh my God it’s just more CGI”? I think there’s a definite bias based on what people expect of a film. Indeed, a commenter on Letterboxd asserted that most of Pan “consists of the sort of spectacle-as-sleep-inducer set-pieces you find tacked onto the end of Marvel superhero movies”, which at least criticises the sainted Marvel movies for once, but I didn’t think it made up “most of the movie”, nor did I find it sleep-inducing. In fact, I thought Pan had some of the better CGI-driven-spectacle action sequences I’ve seen in our modern overloaded-with-CGI-driven-spectacle era. It is, however, one of those films that must have been genuinely made with its 3D release in mind — as is often the case with those, it’s not the stuff poking out at you that gives it away, but the in-focus backgrounds, which can be especially awkward to navigate in fast-moving action scenes. As’s review of the 3D disc notes, “the chaos of the final battle is easier to follow when the action occurs in recognizably separate planes in space.”

Perhaps another aspect of Pan’s reception is some audience members’ devotion to the original story, which may influence how much you can buy into all the changes and adjustments made here. In many aspects it’s not terribly faithful, and if you love the original — especially a particular version, like, say, the Disney one — this might seem like sacrilege. I have no such attachment (though I’ve nothing against Barrie’s work, or Disney’s, aside from my aforementioned aversion to the eponymous hero), so I was perhaps more open to this Epic Fantasy reimagining. (In that last respect, it definitely falls into the same bracket as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which I wrote about in my review: classics of children’s fantasy adapted and reconfigured with a post-Potter/Rings mindset.)

So boo to the trouncers: with a bit of an open mind to its changes, and a bit of allowance for some of the ideas that don’t actually work, Pan is a colourful, inventive, fun, family-friendly adventure movie. And I’d definitely have watched a sequel.

4 out of 5

Pan is available on Sky Cinema from today, including on Now TV.

The Independent Monthly Update for June 2016

In? Out? Pretty sure “shake it all about” won the referendum.

(It was a toss up between a Brexit joke and a Game of Thrones one, and only one of those wouldn’t constitute spoilers. Well, depending on your definition of “spoiled”.)

#102 Cop Car (2015)
#102a Independence Day (Special Edition) (1996/1998)
#103 The Revenant (2015)
#104 Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
#105 Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)
#106 Spy (Extended Cut) (2015)
#107 Deadpool (2016)
#107a Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)
#108 Ip Man 3 (2015), aka Yip Man 3
#109 Steve Jobs (2015)
#110 Fantastic Four (2015)
#111 Barry Lyndon (1975)
#112 Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future (1973), aka Иван Васильевич меняет профессию
#113 The Bank Job (2008)
#113a The Present (2014)
#114 The Lobster (2015)
#115 Pan (2015)


  • WDYMYHS continues apace with Stanley Kubrick’s 7th film on the IMDb Top 250, Barry Lyndon. It’s getting a 40th anniversary theatrical re-release towards the end of July, so expect a review nearer the time.
  • #1 thing I didn’t quite get round to this month: Zootropolis, aka Zootopia. It’s not out on UK DVD/Blu-ray until the end of July, but I imported it from the US (before 37.4% of the electorate went and knackered the value of the pound).
  • The Bank Job finally carries the number of films I’ve seen from my 2008 ‘50 Unseen’ list past the 20 mark. Ridiculously, last year’s list also passed that marker this month.
  • Independence Day is the first non-main-list film I’ve watched for review this year, and Bambi Meets Godzilla is the first short film.

It’s funny: having passed 100 last month, the whole statistics / how far I’ve got / predictions for the future shebang has been much less on my mind of late (which has been more occupied with writing 100 Favourites posts, because I’m no longer far ahead on them). Nonetheless, here are a couple of observations.

With 14 new feature films watched, June bests last month’s 13 (just), but sits behind all other months of 2016. It’s also not quite as good as last June, which scored 16, but it well surpasses June’s average of 8.25. It’s the 25th consecutive month with over 10 films, too, so that’s nice — still on track for that to hold until this December messes it up, at least.

As ever, the end of June marks the year’s halfway point. With my year-to-date monthly average at 19.2, the obvious forecast places me at 232 by the end of the year, which — in almost the opposite of last year, when these predictions kept proving undervalued — I don’t expect to reach. Taking the average of the last two months as a better guide, that gets me to 196, which seems more plausible. Really, I’m only in the habit of making these predictions from the years when it took me ’til December to reach #100, and so trying to guess if I was going to do it ‘mattered’ — these days, what does it matter? I’ll get where I get.

And on that downbeat note…

The halfway point of the year also means the halfway point of my 100 Favourites. The (alphabetical) first 50 is completed by:

The 13th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A couple of 2015 Oscar contenders caught my attention this month, and The Revenant or Steve Jobs would certainly be a worthier pick… but I called this category “favourite” rather than “best” for a reason, and dammit if I didn’t enjoy Deadpool more than a man of my age (i.e. older than teenage) reasonably should.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I didn’t love every film I watched this month, but I did at least like the vast majority. Some may think last year’s much maligned Fantastic Four reboot would be a shoo-in here, but no, I quite liked it. So the only bad film this month — and therefore an easy ‘victor’ in this category — was unnecessary sequel Beverly Hills Cop III.

Best Moulin Rouge Rip-Off of the Month
Smells Like Teen Spirit in Pan. (Sorry if I’ve now spoiled that surprise for you.)

Most Unexpected Appearance by a Eurovision Song Contest Entrant… Ever
The word “most” feels a bit redundant here — how many Eurovision entrants have ever turned up in movies? Well, aside from Abba. Anyway, I’d never seen a Paul Feig film before, but he earns a shed-ton of bonus points (enough to wipe out Ghostbusters? We’ll see) for not only featuring Ukraine’s 2007 submission by Verka Serdyuchka in Spy, but for setting an action sequence to it too.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
A close one this time, but it ended with victory for a 100 Favourites entry, for the second month in a row: my generation’s Star Wars, the enduringly popular Jurassic Park.

Historically, July is my lowest-totalling month, and the only month where I’ve ever failed to watch a single new film (in 2009). 2016’s iteration should do better than that, at least.