Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Trailer Check: Pan (2015)

© Warner Bros. | Source: YouTube screenshot

When in 1902 Scottish novelist and playwright J.M. Barrie first created his character Peter Pan, little did he know that the young boy who was solid against growing up would become a popular hero not only in literature but also in a different medium. Many films have featured cheeky Peter throughout the decades, from the silent movie Peter Pan (1924) and the Disney classic of the same title from 1953 to Steven Spielberg's live-action sequel Hook (1991), starring the late Robin Williams as an adult version of the flying youth in green tights.

This month, Joe Wright, director of visually stunning productions such as Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), offers us a look behind the established Barrie story. His film, simply going by the name of Pan, is meant to function as a prequel and explain to us how Peter came to the mythical Neverland and how he first encountered his famous nemesis, Captain Hook.

Hollywood obviously has found a new pastime: taking established and beloved stories and turning their lore upside down. In these re-tellings, characters who formerly just played small parts enter centre stage, offering a new look onto things (Snow White and the Huntsman). Or previous villains are depicted as morally ambivalent and victims of cruelty and fate (Maleficent, Cinderella).

In Pan, as we can see from the trailer, good old Captain Hook (Garrett Hedlund) is endowed with a human side - and an Indiana Jones outfit. Teamed up with Peter (Levi Miller) and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), he tries to free Neverland of the tyrannical reign of Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), a ruthless and sinister-looking pirate. 

But do we really need a humanised Hook? Do we need to see a budding friendship between him and Peter and, eventually, the events that turned the two into arch enemies? Basically, what I'm asking is: Do we really need such a spin on the established Peter Pan story? What's wrong with Hook just being passionately annoyed by bratty Peter and his entourage? Why can't we just accept that he wants their demise simply because he's a grumpy, evil man who should work on his people skills? Things are never just black or white, I give you that. However, imposing a good nature onto a character of whom we all know that he's a scoundrel, takes the fun out of everything. I mean, what's next? A re-telling of 101 Dalmatians in which we are informed that Cruella De Vil actually loved animals but turned into a fur-coat-crazy bitch because her father was mauled by a rabid dog? Stop white-washing your villains, Hollywood! I love them just as naughty as they are.

So, there it is: I really can't be bothered by the plot hinted at in the Pan trailer. I don't want another, dubious, lovey-dovey explanation why the bad guys aren't really bad or why the good guys aren't really good. I prefer my perception of Captain Hook not to be tainted by some quickly made-up plot twist that is meant to surprise audiences. I personally find that those re-tellings never manage to bring more complexity to those established characters. They always flatten them out.

Apart from the plot level of the trailer, the visual level left me unimpressed as well. Adventurous sequences and CGI-fuelled moments abound. Blazing canons, giant crocodiles, wild rides on outsized birds, sword and fist fights and a whole bunch of colourful creatures overrun the scenery. Forgotten are the moments in which Peter's story was, first and foremost, a tale about friendship, childhood and coming of age. Pan supposedly tries to impress on a bigger scale. Here, Peter's fate is determined by prophecies and destiny. His purpose: saving the whole of Neverland from tyranny. Hints at heartfelt moments between the characters are sacrificed for an explosion of (sometimes rather cheap-looking) special effects, and instead of feeling thrill, I felt overstimulation and boredom. 

Granted that re-tellings also offer an opportunity to flesh out those female characters that often are less than spectacular in the source material, Pan's take on Tiger Lily is yet to be evaluated. In the trailer, she appears like a regular sword-swinging gal with a passion for multicoloured headgear, and gives pep talks to Peter.

Hugh Jackman seems to be the true star of this production. From the trailer his performance as Blackbeard seems to be deliciously malicious. His outward appearance is perfectly grim and striking, and I have my hopes up that the Aussie actor did indeed get the chance to play a memorable villain. As things are now, in five years time, there'll probably be a Pan re-telling showing us that Blackbeard is actually a lovely man who enjoys stroking kittens as well as long walks on the beach.

"Sometimes to truly understand how things end, we must first know how they begin", says Tiger Lily at the beginning of the trailer. Well, you know, sometimes I'm not so sure about that.

Release: 09 October 2015 (USA)  |  16 October 2015 (UK)
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