Twelve years ago, at an orphanage for boys, a tiny baby was abandoned at its doors by a mysterious woman (Amanda Seyfried) who left a letter with the infant's name, Peter, and gave it a kiss as she departed, hoping to meet him again some day. Now, the Second World War is raging and the Blitzkrieg is hitting London, but for some reason the orphans, though directly in the firing line, have not been evacuated to the countryside where they would be safe, possibly because nobody really cares about them. One of those children is Peter (Levi Miller), still there and causing trouble because he believes the head nun (Kathy Burke) has been stealing the boys' rations, so when the bombers strike again one night, he eschews the shelter and takes his friend to investigate her quarters...
Seriously, wouldn't an orphanage in Central London be a prime candidate for the evacuation programme? But there was a lot that didn't add up about director Joe Wright's hymn to childhood fantasy, not least the takings at the box office where for various reasons it failed to win an audience, with only the usual scattering of fans of a major studio flop championing it. Worth mentioning again that this was yet another script on the so-called blacklist which was supposed to be neglected but fantastic, which then went on to be the basis for a financial disaster when it was completed and released, which by this point was beginning to cast doubt on the validity of the yearly collection of such screenplays.
Back at Pan, this was more searching for the franchise magic that Harry Potter had proved to be so lucrative, essentially making Peter Pan Peter Potter with his very special parents, very special abilities, and a big nasty villain he has to overcome. Traditionally, in the original J.M. Barrie play at least, that would be Captain Hook, but in this case as a prequel it was Hugh Jackman camping it up as Blackbeard the Pirate, so where was Hook in all this? Here was another element that made little sense, as the plot had disposed of Barrie's origin for the character (public schoolboy turned roguish Navy man) to make him Garrett Hedlund apparently trying a Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, but only managing to muster a Richard Chamberlain as Allan Quartermain.
The fact that Peter and Hook were not only allies, but firm friends who saved one another’s lives in this variation only made their supposed eventual deadly rivalry more depressing, not that we reached that point in Pan. Just as Steven Spielberg's Hook had been a misguided sequel, Wright’s CGI-packed vision was a misguided prequel – you could watch P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan in between these for the whole story of expensive flops to feature the boy who never grew up. There was no Wendy and her brothers to be seen, however, as she hadn't met Peter yet, so no love interest, unless you counted Rooney Mara's Tiger Lily, the Indian Princess of the play who had been reimagined as a pasty punkette.
The production suffered a lot of stick for this casting, but it's not as if the rest of it was an absolute stickler for factual accuracy, and Wright had plainly made her tribe multicultural to avoid the criticisms he ironically was landed with anyway. Perhaps more troubling was that when Blackbeard's men started slaughtering them, they didn't die with any blood to be seen but instead in a dainty puff of colourful smoke, making it seem party fun to kill somebody in Neverland, which is where Peter is kidnapped to by Blackbeard's flying sailing ships (a concept the film liked so much it insisted on returning to with deadening regularity). As John Powell's orchestral score raised itself to fresh heights of hysteria to make it come across as if any of this had the dramatic weight it sadly lacked, you could muse over the inclusion of the Lost Boys singing Nirvana and the Pirates singing The Ramones to cringeworthy aims at cool by association, or ponder that Barrie's ghost would be kicking itself that he forgot to include a fart gag and his boyish hero getting thwacked in the bollocks during his classic play. Here's hoping Great Ormond Street Hospital at least saw some donations.