PancoverGrade: B-
Entire family: Yes
2015, 111 min., Color
Rated PG for fantasy action, violence, language, and some thematic material
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: English Dolby Atmos
Bonus features: B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Amazon link

Pan is an ambitious 2015 live-action fantasy adventure from director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Hanna) that’s as different as can be from previous film versions of J.M. Barrie’s tale of Peter Pan—and not just because it’s an origin story.

For starters, Hugh Jackman plays a post-apocalyptic looking villain with the kind of flamboyant flair we saw from David Bowie in Labyrinth, and the villain he plays isn’t even Captain Hook. It’s the pirate Blackbeard, who’s snatching British orphans from their beds and taking them to Neverland in his flying ship to work in his fairy dust mines—reminiscent of what we saw in the second Indiana Jones movie. You’ll also have Indy flashbacks when you meet James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), an adventurer whose Fedora and mannerisms seem unmistakably patterned after the character Harrison Ford made famous. Thankfully those “influences” fall short of seeming like rip-offs.

Panscreen1Partly that’s because Pan has distinctively edgy look and feel to it, as if a punk-rock band got inspired by The Who’s rock opera Tommy and decided to make a film of their own . . . without the songs. This fantasy has more fantastic elements to it than even Barrie could have imagined, and young Peter (Levi Miller) goes from being an orphan with a pan pipe necklace and a mother he tries to track down to a budding superhero who finds his place not in London but in Neverland, where he will become champion of the downtrodden.

The people he defends—the Indians of Neverland—are a curious bunch, though. Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) seems Eurasian, while others of her “tribe” are Asians, blacks, and Latinos. Was this done to avoid racial stereotyping? Possibly, and I wouldn’t blame them. Look at the crap that Disney took for Pocahontas, and they even were careful enough to create a strong, positive heroine who was voiced by a Native American actress. But in Pan the whole idea of “tribe” seems weirdly subverted by multiculturalism.

Panscreen2Those weirdnesses aside, Pan is an energetic fantasy that will satisfy your curiosity about the early days of Peter Pan and his Neverland rivals, unless you’re like my son and you expect to see the story of how Hook lost his arm to the crocodile. Sorry. It’s not here. But would it help to know that the crocodile is animated more like a grand sea monster than the cute nemesis Disney dreamed up? In general, the special and visual effects are quite good, as is the production design. We buy this bleaker, post-apocalyptic version of Neverland precisely because it seems so far-out and young Miller as Pan and the others seem so believably earnest. The action scenes are also more honest and intense than we normally see in a Barrie adaptation. Yes, it’s a little over-the-top in spots and as fantastic as fantasy gets, but Pan is entertaining enough not just for one family movie night, but for replays as well.

Language: A “damn” or two
Sex: n/a
Violence: Some intense action scenes, though no blood or guts or anything
Adult situations: Hook comes on to Tiger Lily, but that’s about it
Takeaway: Just when you thought Peter Pan was as tame as can be, along comes this origin story to prove that you can take even a beloved classic and give it a new, sharper edge