Reviewed by Christopher O'donnell
Peter Pan has long history on the big screen with many different iterations, the most popular probably being the 1953 Disney animated version. This film from director Joe Wright, comes twelve years after the last cinematic attempt at adapting J.M. Barrie’s play, and tries to stand out from its predecessors opting for the origin story route that Hollywood has loved to use for the it’s superhero franchises. In a way the eponymous hero has many similarities to a superhero, he flies, wears a colourful costume and fights bad guys, on paper this seems ripe for turning into a franchise. However following the release of this film, it’s doubtful this version of Peter Pan will ever be revisited.
This film also attempts to set itself apart from other adaptations by setting the action in World War II, a strange decision considering the original Barrie play is from 1904. The only concievable reason for this choice of time was to have an action sequence involving RAF Spitfires and a flying pirate ship above a blitzed London, which admittedly is one of the highlights of the film. Other than that the time doesn’t really seem important to the story, especially in Neverland which in this version exists outside of normal time and space, which allows the characters to sing several anachronistic songs, which are enjoyable if extremely unexpected. On an aesthetic level, the film has a number of pleasures. Neverland is a colourful paradise with new inventive designs for the 21st century update of the natives. Some have questioned Rooney Mara’s casting as Tiger Lily, however the natives are multi-ethnic, which is probably a necessary change from the racist depiction of the characters in the original work. When it comes to the spectacle, at times it feels like Wright has bitten of more than he can chew, despite the budget the visual effects miss the mark on several occasions.
In contrast to the visuals the script by Jason Fuchs is extremely unimaginative, falling back on the old ‘Chosen One’ narrative. The plot fails to engage the audience in any meaningful way. The film is just a colourful fantasy clumsily going through the motions. The story is so simplistic several scenes attempt at padding the film’s length, but this just causes boredom to set in. In terms of tone, there is definitely some darkness in there that could potentially add a layer of depth to the story, but ultimately this feels wasted by a relatively anti-climactic Hollywood finish.
In terms of acting the cast make an admirable effort, Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard is enjoyable to watch and he seems to have fun with the role. He is the right blend of villainous and charming with a large on screen presence. However the character still feels quite disposable, as if he’s just an imitation of a Captain Hook that is yet to come. Garret Hedlund does a decent job as a young pre-pirate Hook, giving the movie most of its moments of comedy and acting as the film’s swashbuckling hero. Counterbalanced with Levi Miller’s young and innocent Peter Pan, the duo function much like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, there’s even a romantic subplot with a princess. However despite being an origin story, you don’t really leave the film with a deeper understanding of any of these iconic characters, if anything the film just poses more questions, particularly with Hook. The characters are likeable for the most part at least, if only on a superficial level. Wright attempts to make up for the rather flimsy plot and hollow characters by being as flashy and quick paced as possible. This is fine for blockbuster family entertainment, however it also makes it extremely forgettable. It’s hard to truly dislike this film when it’s clear there was a fair amount effort expended in its production even if it appears to simply be Warner Brother’s attempt to cash in on the recent trend of popular animated stories being remade in live-action. Despite a lack of faithfulness to the source material, there is definitely some magic in there, but overall the film never really manages to justify its existence.