In this origin story but not quite an adaptation of the beloved J.M Barrie book Peter Pan this film takes us on a journey that seems to have no real rhyme or reason other than Peter trying to find his mother, accidentally stumbling into an adventure and ultimately discovering his destiny.
Peter (Levi Miller), a mischievous young boy in an orphanage in World War II riddled London ends up aboard a magical flying galleon ship and soon finds himself in a mysterious place called Neverland. He meets Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) the king of the pirates who rules a mining workforce digging for the magical pixum crystals. With an obvious case of inevitability we’re told of a prophecy foretelling of a young boy with the ability to fly that will defeat Blackbeard and restore Neverland to its magical beauty; and Peter discovers by sheer accident that a happy thought gets him airborne (albeit briefly) after he escapes the mines with some help from a new friend James Hook (Garrett Hedlund). Blackbeard now convinced that Peter is the chosen one is bent on tracking him down and finding the mysterious Fairy Kingdom to take all the pixum for himself. As Peter ventures through Neverland he meets TigerLilly (Rooney Mara) who helps Peter to fulfil his destiny and save Neverland and the Fairy Kingdom.
The screenplay by Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift) seems to take some elements from other previous kids-targeted fantasy fare like Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter. The idea of far away magical places, and a prophetic designated “chosen one” does feel a little repetitive but there are plenty of moments that help to give the film its own tone and flair. Speaking of flair, Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard is utterly faaaaabulous. His entrance to the chorus of the Lost Boys singing a chant of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is inspired and so is his outfit that resembles a medieval armour suited pirate meets Marie Antoinette. And his performance flits between humour and charisma but his ruthlessness and brutality is only marginally toned down. The most interesting twist in this film is James Hook, who resembles nothing of what we’re familiar with from the original story. Here he looks more like Indiana Jones and has all the swagger, occasional sharp tongue and matching headwear, as well as both hands. Hedlund works well with what thin character arc he has since we’re not really given any insight into how he ended up in Neverland. Nor any hints as to how his friendship with Peter ends up backflipping to them becoming enemies, perhaps that’s left for a sequel if it gets greenlit. Another error you could possibly nitpick is the whitewash casting of Rooney Mara as TigerLilly a character Barrie had written as part of a “Picaninny tribe” in other words Indian ancestry. This did cause some controversy when her casting was announced but Mara’s fierce performance at least makes up for it in a small way. The star is young Aussie Levi Miller though, who is captivating as Peter, with his wide eyes and moments of self-doubt that then build into determination, his character growth is mirrored by his exceptional enactment. Kids can be motivated by Peter’s journey of self discovery.
Director Joe Wright (Anna Karenina, Atonement) does make this a wonderful and whimsical ride for some of it, and with the help of cinematographer’s John Mathieson and Seamus McGarvey also make this a visually stunning film to watch, full of colour and fantastic elements. With the flying ships and the rainbow coloured tribe of the Neverwood there’s no short supply of elements popping out off the screen if you see it in 3D. But the films length at 111 minutes does feel a little on the long side, particularly for kids and it also feels like this film is far too cluttered with delivering its narrative which may also make it hard for the young ones to follow. Snapping from Blackbeard’s desire to mine the magical pixum to Peter’s insistence on finding his mother and ultimately learning of his destiny seems a bit much. They should’ve just focused on Peter, since the film really is about his origin.
Regardless of the slightly cluttered storyline and a little bit lengthy run time there is enough fun to be had to not feel too bogged down. The characters are engaging but best of all everything is bright and colourful and capricious and Hugh Jackman really is utterly fabulous in this.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 111 minutes
Pan will screen in Australian cinemas from 24 September 2015 through Roadshow Films