If you’ve ever wondered why Peter Pan never ages, why Captain Hook is so angry, or why fairies die when you stop believing… well, Pan (2015) is not going to explain any of that for you. However, if you’d like to have a vague idea of where Peter’s story began, then you may enjoy this prequel to the play and novel and subsequent film adaptations that so many of us grew up with.
The story begins with Peter as an infant as his mother (Amanda Seyfried) leaves him at the doorstep of an orphanage in England. Although she’s distraught, nothing seems to explain why the devastated mother is abandoning her baby.
Fast forward a few years and Peter (Levi Miller) is now a mischievous boy trying to survive in the orphanage during the London blitz of 1940. As is common in these stories, there’s a nun who aims to steal from the children and to make their lives an absolute nightmare. Peter, determined to prove the nun is hoarding all of the good rations, breaks into her secret storage room during an air raid and eventually discovers a letter his mother left him, in which she promises to see him again, in this world or another. Peter takes great hope in this, even though the nun assures him he’s nothing special.
Later that night, a group of strange men drop down through windows in the ceiling and kidnap some of the boys. Peter nearly makes an escape, but the nun pushes him back in the room in order to get rid of him for good. Before he knows it, Peter is a captive on a pirate’s ship that flies through the sky above London and eventually takes him to Neverland. The captured boys are told they’ll be mining for a crystallized form of fairy dust, and are sent to work with the rest of the slaves.
It doesn’t take long for Peter to run into trouble, however, as he’s accused of being a thief and liar shortly after he arrives. The dreaded Captain Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) plans to make an example of him by making him walk the plank to his demise. Just as Peter is about to hit the rocky soil below, he suddenly begins to fly. Enraged, Blackbeard brings him back to his bunk and tells him about the prophecy of a young boy who flies, who’s said to be sent to take him down. Peter refuses to believe that he’s part of the prophecy, and Blackbeard tosses him in prison until he can figure out how to handle the situation.
Luckily, James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), another slave who helped Peter out in the mines, ends up in the cell next to him. Hook promises to help Peter find his mother, if Peter will use his flying powers to help them escape. One explosion and a whole bunch of falling later, and the two are free, if only for a little while.
They hide in the forest, which turns out to be the land of the Natives, where they’re captured and Hook is made to fight for his life against the Native’s strongest warrior, named Pan. The fight ends when they discover that Peter is the chosen one from the prophecy, thanks to the pan flute-shaped pendant he wears. But the Natives proclaim that Peter must prove this by flying, which he’s unable to do.
Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), the Native princess, tries to inspire Peter by telling him about his parents, and how his mother was a warrior and his father was a fairy prince. But Peter still can’t believe in himself enough to fly again. And then the Natives are invaded, and mostly slaughtered, by Blackbeard and his men. Hook, Tiger Lily, and Peter manage to escape, and use a special map to find the Fairy Kingdom, where they hope to get the help of the fairies to defeat the pirates.
Just as Peter gains confidence in who he is and tries to open the door to the fairy’s domain, Blackbeard makes another appearance and steals away Peter’s necklace, which turns out to be a key. Blackbeard opens the door and marvels at all the crystallized fairy dust on display, which will apparently make him immortal.
He tells his men to wipe out the fairies, but the trio refuse to stand by and let it happen. A fight ensues, and Peter finally finds the courage to fly in order to save his people and his friends. With Blackbeard defeated, Hook takes over his ship (becoming “Captain Hook”, of course), and the trio fly back to England in order to bring the rest of the orphans to Neverland.
As far as prequels go, this story doesn’t exactly explain much other than the fact that Peter Pan is the child of a fairy prince. In fact, rather than enlightening the viewers, this movie only creates more questions. I don’t know if the filmmakers were planning on coming up with another movie to tie together the two stories, but for now, nothing seems to fall into place.
For instance, they hint at a romance between Tiger Lily and Hook, which is strange. They also never go into details about the whole immortality thing, or why Peter will stay young forever. I get that the fairy dust prevents aging and death, but is that the reason that Peter and the Lost Boys remain children? And most vague of all, why and how does Hook turn into Peter’s arch-nemesis? All in all, this film claims to add to the story, but I feel as if I understand it less now.
As a kid, the story of Peter Pan was magical and filled with wonder, but this prequel seems to lack anything the original story brought to the table. I don’t know if it’s because of the lacking storyline, or the terrible acting, but the film just sort of sits in the stomach like a bland meal of CGI and mediocrity. Even the way the plot introduces the backstory by having CGI illustrations in wood and water seems condescending to the audience.
As far as the casting goes—wow. It’s not hard to find a kid to suit Peter Pan, and Levi Miller does give it a good try, but there are some points in which I’m not sure if it’s his acting or the poorly constructed dialogue that are making scenes flop. They also managed to cast Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily, which seems a weird choice considering the part was always described as an American Indian.
And I have to mention how incredibly annoying Garret Hedlund’s performance is in this film. From the second he opens his mouth, you can tell that voice isn’t natural, and his acting only gets more forced as the movie goes, and it progressively feels like nails on a chalkboard. Even Hugh Jackman, who’s renowned for his acting abilities, lets his part fall pretty flat, as it feels like the eccentricities of the character were never given any depth.
The use of modern music in the movie was also confusing. There’s a scene where Blackbeard and all the slaves sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and another where they sing “Blitzkrieg Bop”. I wasn’t sure if they were just incorporating it into the film for a bit of fun, or if they were hinting that the pirates visited more modern times and brought the songs back. All the same, it was pretty weird, especially since it was only in a small portion of the film and the gimmick was quickly forgotten. For that, I guess we can be thankful.
So, if you’re looking to satisfy your love of Peter Pan, you may not enjoy this prequel. However, if you just want to keep the kids entertained for a couple of hours, then this film should do the trick.