Sunday, October 18, 2015

"Pan" Review: A Meandering Muddled Mess For The Whole Family


Peter Pan is a revered children's story that reminds us of the innocence of youth along with the loss of innocence that comes with adulthood. Just about anyone knows what a lost boy is, who Tinkerbell is or how Captain Hook lost his hand, but does anyone really know how it all started? As is the current trend in Hollywood it was only a matter of time before someone saw fit to rewind the clock and show us, whether we wanted it or not, how Peter became the Pan of Neverland. Also as is the current trend of Hollywood, this origin story of a classic fairy tale character falls flat on its face with a surprisingly large number of ill-conceived ideas and extremely poor execution on just about everyones part. This isn't a case of who is responsible but more like who isn't responsible for this mess? Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital             
Film Rating: PG
Film Runtime:  1 hr 51 min
Studio: Warner Bros. 
Release Date: October 9, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Ummm...
Likes: Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara
Neutral:  The Peter Pan story
Hates: Ill-conceived and unnecessary origin stories
Amanda Seyfried was in this?: Why except one scene cast a known star only to use a digital version of them?


While my instincts tell me to skip the synopsis for this one I feel the need to at least give you the basics so whether you are ready or not, here you go. Baby is left at orphanage, baby grows up to be a boy, boy gets kidnapped by flying pirates, boy is turned into a slave, boy flies, boy meets future nemesis, boy escapes slavery, boy discovers Ewok village masquerading as an Indian tribe, boy discovers his destiny, boy gets chased, boy denies his destiny, boy embraces his destiny, boy fights back, boy wins the day. That's it, that is the entire movie and told much more competently than anything you will find in the actual end product.

Here is where you are warned to stay away from this colostomy bag of a film and direct you to something a little more entertaining and well made. You know, something like the Fantastic Four reboot...oh...wait, never mind. Anyway, if you haven't put the pieces together yet, Pan is not a very good movie and while that is already enough to warrant it an immediate kick to the groin it gets a couple extra kicks along with a shove off the cliff considering it is dealing with a classic beloved (sort of) story from just about everyones childhood. While most will be quick to point out that it fails at everything it is trying to be, which is a prequel to the original Peter Pan story, the truth of the matter is the more offensive parts have nothing to do with its association with that source material as it is just a poorly made film in general.


But just to get it out of the way let us begin with how it stands as a Peter Pan origin story. Forget for a second that just about every image, plot device, character arc and overall feel is borrowed/stolen from a range of other much better films and franchises such as Harry Potter, Star Wars and just about anything where the many character is the chosen one. Instead lets focus on the bland and overly obnoxious characters we have to sit and watch for the next two hours. First up is Peter himself who is a decent enough kid and probably would be more than tolerable in just about any other film but here, as our protagonist (Harry Potter/Luke Skywalker/Frodo Baggins), he is just some whiny kid we want to shut up in place of ever feeling any sort of sympathy for his plight as we should.

It's not that the character makes any poor decisions or that the actor they got is all that bad, it's just that as a character he is lacking just about anything and everything we look for in our hero. Instead of being the chosen one who shows up to Neverland and actively decides to free it from the tyrannical rule of Blackbeard he spends most of the film looking for his mommy. Can you imagine how annoying it would have been if Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars complained the entire time about where his mommy was until the final few minutes where he was FORCED (no pun intended) to become the hero he was destined to be? Peter is supposed to be our gateway into this magical world (which isn't all that magical by the way) and the person whose life we get invested in, but nope, he just wants his mommy.


Even more frustrating is that the screenplay seems to had been constructed to actually give Peter the motivations to want to save Neverland beyond just finding his dam mom. All the early scenes set Peter up as this smart kid who knows something is wrong within his orphanage and proactively sets out to figure out what it is and hopefully put a stop to it. One would assume that once he reaches Neverland and finds A TON of kids as SLAVES working for an evil adult who more than resembles the evil nun at his orphanage that he would also try and find a way to set them free as well right? No, all he is interested in doing is breaking out, but even then when he is free he still doesn't stay because he feels as though he is abandoning all those kids to a horrible fate, no he stays cause...you guessed it, he wants his mommy.

Adding insult to injury are the supporting characters which range from competent to horrible. Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard isn't terrible and probably would have made for a fitting villain if 1. He was given a motivation for his actions beyond just selfish greed and 2. We saw a glimmer of humanity in him that demonstrated he was more than just an evil prick and could feel emotions. Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily was a huge missed opportunity in numerous respects as the supposed romance between her and Hook was a total failure which in turn left very little time for her and Peter to have any time to bond which ultimately made her presence here a moot point beyond throwing a female into the mix for all the aspiring little princess' out there in the audience.


Speaking of Hook...oh boy, where to start. Garrett Hedlund isn't a bad actor, he was alright in Tron Legacy if just a bit stiff and rough around the edges, but by no means was he horrible. As Captain Hook he has successfully provided a visual representation for all time what it is to overact in a role and completely destroy a character in just about every single conceivable way. When he first appears you immediately suspect that there is something a bit off about him, perhaps it is the odd exaggerated way he moves his mouth as he talks, almost like he is trying to be a cartoon or something. But then you hear what is coming out of his mouth and the gloves are off as he successfully makes every single word he speaks into an assault on the senses. I cannot remember the last time an actor was this off the mark.

The special effects are good at least right?...right? Nope, this is a one, two, three punch combo with  a poor script, poor acting/casting and somehow even worse special effects. Sure there are some scenes that catch the eye such as an early dogfight over London between a flying pirate ship and some fighter planes but most of the effects are just poorly done to the point of almost being offensive. While most directors and movie studios have evolved beyond the dreaded early 2000s where they tried to replace actors with digital versions of themselves, both director Joe Wright (who has never done a special effects heavy film before, and it shows) and Warner Bros. haven't gotten that memo as their obsessive use of this technique is distracting and just plain bad.


Nearly every single scene with Peter flying, save for a couple shots here and there, he is a digital creation, but worse yet is just how apparent that fact is. At no time are we ever fooled into thinking that is a real person, and that is just for the far away shots. Someone had the smart idea to do a ridiculous number of close ups on the DIGITAL Peter where we can see up close and personal just how bad the effects really are. They aren't quick cuts either, they linger...and it hurts with every passing second. Why not just do a close up of the actor? Seriously, why not? This offensive use of effects aren't just limited to Peter either, just wait until the mermaids show up. The digital effects are bad but so are the practical ones which is evident every single time we see the strings attached to the actors when they fly around the set. It's all so maddening that you eventually don't know which one would be better, obvious practical effects trickery or ugly digital effects?

We haven't even talked about the terrible attempts at embedding all these winks and nods to the audience that this is a Peter Pan story, the worst of which comes when Peter escapes into the woods and someone tells Blackbeard that, and I quote, "He is lost in the woods sir. Yes, he is now a lost boy". If you aren't busy rolling your eyes you might actually miss the part where he looks at the screen, winks and says, "Did you see what I did there?". How about the odd choice to have all of Blackbeard's slaves sing obscure rock songs whenever he wants to make an appearance? When did this become a musical all of a sudden and if this is supposed to be for kids why pick songs they likely have never heard before? Oh and why the hell do the natives explode into clouds of colored smoke when they are killed?


The entire production is such a disjointed mess that most will give up way before even noticing or even caring about half of the problems listed here. That is probably the biggest problem with the film, that none of any of this really matters because the entire film isn't really worth the time it takes to dissect all the little details in regards to its many issues. Pan isn't just a poorly made film, it is a film that assaults the senses and doesn't even show the potential to be something great and that is probably the saddest thing of all considering all the work and effort that went into its creation. You can bet that most if not everyone involved here will be keeping Pan off their resumes in the future.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Remember all the hate everyone gave Steven Spielberg's Hook a couple decades ago? I do because I was one of them. Well, and I never thought I would be saying this, Pan actually makes Hook look like some sort of miracle in comparison. Everything that doesn't work here worked in Hook and whether or not that was just the magic touch of Spielberg or just a fluke is anyones guess, but if you want your kids to see a fairly decent live action Peter Pan story then stick with that one.

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