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Movie review: Peter Pan reboot will still Hook you in

In spite of its US box office failure, this family-orientated show is far from the worst movie this year, says Andrew Johnston

Published 16/10/2015

Dark side: Hugh Jackman as central villian Blackbeard devours every piece of furniture on set
Dark side: Hugh Jackman as central villian Blackbeard devours every piece of furniture on set

It seems futile to review a movie that has already bombed in the US and has garnered such terrible word-of-mouth that not even five stars from this newspaper would likely entice many more to go and see it. But it deserves to be said that despite the critical bile being heaped upon Joe Wright's Pan, the fantasy prequel to Peter Pan is far from the worst film this year, or even this month.

The family-oriented flick invents a backstory for author JM Barrie's 'Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up', as well as introducing audiences to imagined early incarnations of the eventually villainous Captain Hook and Mr Smee, back when they were merely a gallant adventurer and his kind-hearted sidekick, respectively.

Australian child star Levi Miller plays Pan, alongside American heartthrob Garrett Hedlund, as Hook, and English comic actor Adeel Akhtar, as Smee.

Pan commences with the dumping of baby Peter by his mother Mary (Amanda Seyfried) at the mercy - or lack of it - of the cartoonishly monstrous Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke, resembling Waynetta Slob after finding God).

Some years later, the Second World War has broken out and the now mischievous, urchin-like Peter (Miller) discovers a hidden letter from his mum, promising that they will meet again "in this world or the other".

But before Burke's nasty nun has time to yank the missive from her charge's paw and mete out more of her grotesque punishment, Peter is whisked off in a flying pirate ship to Neverland, a mystical realm that in Wright's retooling, resembles a cross between the worlds seen in Mad Max: Fury Road and Avatar.

And these aren't the only movies being ripped off by the British director, previously best known for helming the likes of Pride & Prejudice and Atonement. The Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Harry Potter series also get shamelessly plundered.

It's not a major problem, though, as the CGI-assisted action rattles along nicely, and the characters prove themselves to be quite charming, even Hedlund's Hook, who is lumbered with a bizarrely stylised voice that evokes James Stewart by way of Looney Tunes.

But the gurning Hook is restraint incarnate next to Hugh Jackman's central villain, the wig-sporting, moustache-twirling, Nirvana-singing (yes, really) Blackbeard. Jackman appears to be on a mission to devour every piece of scenery on set, and to wash it down with most of the cast and crew. Some of the campy pirate king's tactics - such as forcing children in his fairy dust mine to walk a gangplank to their certain doom, while a crowd bays below - may be a bit much for younger viewers, but they're in keeping with Wright and screenwriter Jason Fuchs's darker take on Barrie's tale.

Then, about halfway through, we reach the picture's arguably most controversial element, the casting of the pale-skinned New Yorker Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as the traditionally Native American Tiger Lily. To be fair to the filmmakers, Barrie doesn't specify the character's race in his book, and Mara gives an enjoyable performance.

Sure, Pan's 'chosen one' plot line is played out and, as with the mystery-busting midi-chlorians in the Star Wars prequels, sucks some of the magic out of Barrie's timeless yarn, while the screenplay lingers too long in Blackbeard's grim lair when there is the whole rest of Neverland to explore.

But Wright's would-be blockbuster is amiable, lively and has a strange, almost subversive attitude that marks it out from the usual multiplex fare. That's got to be worth three stars at least.

Three stars

Belfast Telegraph

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