Some movies are bad, and others are disastrous, but a few movies blow straight past your regular levels of terrible and land the realm of the just plain WRONG. This is where Pan lives. This is a movie made for no one, and it totally faceplanted at the box office as a result. Filmmaking is an exercise in compromise, and even in the absolute best circumstances—the films that go on to great popular, critical, and financial acclaim—what you’re watching is still a compromise. But Pan is not just the result of compromise, it’s the end game of a series of increasingly bad decisions that culminate in a spectacularly bad movie. You’re not just looking at the carcass of a once-good idea, you are watching studio executives, writers, producers, a director, everyone, run right off a cliff.
Pan is a prequel to Peter Pan, and it begins with Peter’s mother (Amanda Seyfried) dumping her infant in a Dickens novel, leaving him to be raised by cruel nuns and subsist on gruel in scenes so over the top it feels like the orphans ought to burst into song at any moment. In fact, Pan feels like at some point it was meant to be a musical, but that version of the movie got cut off at the knees—although we’re still treated to an insane scene in which pirate-slaves sing Nirvana and The Ramones, but we’ll get there. Back in Dickens-town, orphans are vanishing during the night so Peter decides to stay up one night and see what’s going on.
Pan then turns into Mad Max: Neverland, as orphans are being kidnapped by polecats and carted off to Neverland where they work as slaves. Peter gets kidnapped because of course, and then a flying pirate ship tries to outrun the Royal Air Force because all of this is happening during a World War II German air raid, because if there is anything kids like in their movies, it’s Nazis and carpet bombing. From there, Peter is introduced to Neverland, aka Ferngully, where the pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) is strip-mining searching for Pixum—no idea what this word actually is because it sounded like “Pig scum” no matter who pronounced it—which is basically fairy meth that Blackbeard huffs in order to remain young, even though it’s been established that you don’t age in Neverland just by virtue of staying there.
The pirates in Neverland sing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when Blackbeard appears, which, again, if kids like anything, it’s songs that were popular before they were born. So Peter is dumped into Blackbeard’s slavery pit where he mines for Pig scut or whatever the f*ck and he meets James Hook, which is Garrett Hedlund blatantly auditioning for Han Solo yet doing the stupidest voice in the world. In any other movie, Hedlund’s silly Hook voice is the worst decision on screen, but in Pan it’s just a blip on the radar—there are far stupider decisions. Like the singing pirates. Or the f*cking stupid “Chosen One” plot in which Peter is a prophesied child destined to free Neverland from Blackbeard’s slavery pit and his godawful singalongs.
There’s a bunch of nonsense about Peter’s parents that totally contradicts the notion of Peter as a Forever Child who rejects adulthood just as his parents rejected him, and then Peter and Hook arrive at the “tribal camp” and meet Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). Yes, casting a white actress to play a Native role is a dumb f*cking thing to do, but never fear—it gets worse. The Neverland natives have been reimagined by director Joe Wright as a circus troupe, with teepees traded for circus tents and the costumes referencing African and Amazonian tribes but also Cirque du Soleil and this whole section of the movie looks like a preschool pageant. The tribe is multi-ethnic but the three people charged with saving it are white, so those optics look great, but it ultimately doesn’t matter because Blackbeard shows up and murders everyone and you can add “genocide” to the list of things that kids really love in their movies. (Later, Blackbeard will also burn multitudes of fairies to death.)
Hook and Tiger Lily have a romantic subplot that no one cares about and Peter spends a lot of time being a really awful brat—which jives with what a selfish asshole Peter Pan is in literature, so at least they got that right—and there’s a giant blind crocodile but Hook never loses his hand because Warner Brothers thought they were launching a franchise and could do that in another movie. LOL NO. The final battle is a bunch of CGI nonsense with an obligatory Tinkerbell cameo, and Peter harnesses his Chosen One Fairy Power to turn into Fairy Damien and make them eat people? It’s not entirely clear what the fairies are doing, but there is an actual shot of Peter grinning maniacally as he watches fairies devour(??) people. This is a kids’ movie! There isn’t a single thing in Pan that works.