For kids of the ‘90s, Steven Spielberg’s Hook is something of a childhood classic.
Starring the late great Robin Williams as the jaded grown-up Peter Pan and no less than Dustin Hoffman as the dastardly, mustache-twirling Hook — not to mention Dame Maggie Smith’s elderly Wendy and Bob Hoskins’ workaday Smee — it’s pure cinematic confection.
While not, perhaps, worthy of inclusion with the likes of E.T., Schindler’s List, and Jaws, the film is still a major reference point for all other adaptations/prequels/sequels based on J.M. Barrie’s novel. Pan, the latest film from Hanna director Joe Wright, is essentially Hook for the Avatar generation.
Opening in a gorgeously dingy evocation of London at the height of the Blitz, the film tells the story of the adventurous Peter (a spritely, rebellious Levi Miller), whose mother left him at an orphanage when he was a baby — an orphanage run by a feral Kathy Burke wearing a headdress that resembles an origami crane no less.
Then one night Peter and the rest of his dorm are snatched from their beds by Cirque du Soleil-like pirates and whisked away to Neverland where they are press-ganged into the service of the fearsome Blackbeard (an oily Hugh Jackman; all teeth, tears, and limber ferocity). It’s here Peter meets James Hook (Garrett Hedlund as Harrison Ford) and their shared destiny begins.
Wright’s camera swoops and soars, through dogfights between Spitfires and pirate ships where pirate ships have no business being, and lush tropical forests populated by natives from somewhere between Tibet and Tasmania. Pan, like Hook, is chock-a-block with CG-aided imagination and pageantry — it feels in part like what Terry Gilliam might have come up with given the same material.
Unlike Hook, though there’s a by-the-numbers Chosen One plot that only avoids the White Savior trope by having Princess Tiger Lily be played by Rooney Mara. Her flirtatious, would-be romantic relationship with Hook feels like the film’s already playing towards a sequel.
With a $150 million budget and almost a two-hour run-time, Pan is spectacular but without the absurd “reality” that made Hook quite so entertaining. Spielberg may regret having been only been able to “paint trees blue and red”, according to a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, but it provided that film with a grounding that Pan lacks.
It’s fun and engaging, but all of a sudden everyone’s bellowing out “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and you’re wondering where this came from. The quieter moment of genuine magic, like when Peter trails through space, tethered to the deck of a pirate ship, gets lost in the throng. Still, we’ve all got to grow up sometime.