Visually stunning grand folly lacks emotion

Rooney Mara and Levi Miller in Pan  PA/Laurie Sparham/Warner Bros
Rooney Mara and Levi Miller in Pan PA/Laurie Sparham/Warner Bros

PAN (PG, 111 mins) Family/Adventure/Fantasy/Action/Romance. Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara, Adeel Akhtar, Nonso Anozie, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Burke, Lewis MacDougall, Cara Delevingne. Director: Joe Wright.

Released: October 16 (UK & Ireland)

Like generations of children before me, including transfixed youngsters at the 1904 premiere of JM Barrie’s stage play Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, I wholeheartedly believe in fairies.

Alas, I don’t believe in Pan. Production designer Aline Bonetto, costume designer Jacqueline Durran and their teams have sprinkled bulging handfuls of fairy dust over Joe Wright’s gargantuan production to lovingly recreate wartime London and colour-saturated Neverland.

But while this fantasy adventure invites our senses on an awfully big adventure, it lands with a dull thud where it matters most: our hearts.

The childlike wonder of Barrie’s text has been waylaid en route to the second star to the right, careening between bombastic set pieces without truly understanding the characters and the turmoil that drives them.

In a straight sword fight with Steven Spielberg’s flawed 1991 romp Hook, Pan unexpectedly comes off second best.

Wright’s film opens with a mother (Amanda Seyfried) tearfully abandoning her infant on the steps of The Sisters Of Eternal Prudence, Lambeth Home For Boys with a handwritten note and a pan flute pendant.

That’s a choking hazard, but no matter. Twelve years later as bombs rain down on 1940s London, the child - Peter (Levi Miller) - and best friend Nibs (Lewis MacDougall) declare a war of attrition against head nun, Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke), who is stockpiling rations and forcing the boys to eat gruel.

One fateful night, pirates abseil through the home’s skylights, kidnap the slumbering children and spirit them away to Neverland, where they become the property of an ageing seadog called Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman).

The abducted tykes are put to work in the mines where Peter befriends a rapscallion called Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and learns he might be the chosen one of ancient prophecy.

“I don’t believe in bedtime stories,” boldly declares Peter, who escapes enslavement and gallivants through Neverland in the company of Hook, snivelling sidekick Smiegel (Adeel Akhtar) and feisty tribal princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara).

Pan is a visually stunning grand folly, which has been starved of naked human emotion.

Australian actor Miller’s cor-blimey-guvnor London accent eludes him on a couple of occasions, but he illuminates the screen and sparks a pleasing partnership with Jackman’s campy villain. Their one-on-one scenes, pontificating on destiny and what maketh a man, are the closest screenwriter Jason Fuchs comes to tugging a heartstring.

Hedlund seems to be auditioning for the rumoured Indiana Jones reboot with his pratfall-laden heroics that reimagine Hook as a gung-ho good guy.

The haphazard script shoehorns verbal and visual references to Barrie’s text, sometimes with groan-worthy results. Thus when Peter wriggles out of Blackbeard’s clutches, the pirate barks, “So is the boy lost?” and a minion replies, “Yes sir, he is a lost boy.”

Wright’s film is lost with him.

RATING: 5/10