Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara, Levi Miller
Joe Wright is right when he asks you to watch Pan in 3D; while there have been several versions and interpretations of this classic story in the past, Wright uses 3D to his advantage to bring Neverland to life in all its glory. Even as flying ships battle with World War fighter jets in the skies, Pan is suspended in infinite space in the iconic segment of the story when Peter Pan gets kidnapped to be taken to Neverland, and multiple versions of Cara Delevingne float about as mermaids in the water. The film belongs to George Melies’ brand of cinema; with its sleight of hand, it brings this fairytale alive for this generation of kids. Unfortunately, however, Tinkerbell is dehumanised here, unlike in the Spielberg movies. She is a speck of light that makes sounds only Peter can hear, and the rest of the time, the fairies are represented together as an entity and operate like illuminated bees. Having said that, the film is a pretty faithful representation of the original. Peter Pan best exemplifies the themes of early 20th century British tales. The dusty mines of suburban England, the popular (if disturbing when it brings up questions of race) childhood game of pirates and Native Americans, World War planes and civilian society’s interaction with imperialism are prominent themes that feature in the plot, without contemporising them for current audiences as Hollywood films are wont to do nowadays. This historicist approach makes the narrative more satisfying as we are literally able to reflect on history through
“Childhood ain’t so jolly. In fact, it’s rather frightening,” Blackbeard announces to Peter Pan while offering him chocolates, right after he has tried to kill him in this version of the classic. Hugh Jackman shines in this quasi-father/arch enemy role of a diabolical villain, memorably playing Blackbeard. He is deliciously devilish as Blackbeard, understated yet magnanimous in his delivery, in a way peculiar
Levi Miller’s debut is strong as well, and he convinces the audience that he’s Peter Pan, no mean feat with a character whose image is so etched in popular culture. With his light brown hair, roundish face and blue eyes, he fits the popular image of Peter Pan very well, a factor that helps him present an effective portrayal. Miller is confident and gifted as a child actor, delivering his lines and acting out his parts with alacrity, if a little mechanically at times.
The storyline is faithful to the original, and Garrett Hedlund as John Hook cuts a classic cowboy image, straying from the original a wee bit. Peter Pan and Hook’s escape on the flying ship to discover the hidden islands of the tribals is a visual delight.
19th century imperialist scenarios appear throughout the film and are highlighted in JM Barrie’s narrative; the idea of the tribal “native” world — associated with “carnivalesque themes — is on full display in the colourful world of Neverland, garbed in hipster music festival costume finery. There is a mish-mash of cultural appropriation: at times Rooney Mara is wearing Indian costumes, and the old leader of the tribe is in sadhu garb declaring “Death is the greatest adventure”. The tribal world is a ridiculous riot of colour, perhaps a representation of the classic Western imperialist gaze on the East in its exotic, other-worldly form. This is where the film fails to rectify Peter Pan’s problematic engagements with race; the contemporary narrative merely updates the original’s imperialistic undertones in its current avatar. Rooney Mara and the tribals are often seen wearing Indian clothes, and the presence of a diverse cast amongst the tribals merely makes it so much worse.
Pan is, at the end of the day, a beautiful movie to watch, but it again brings us back to a lot of Western literature we have consumed; where does it fall in its role on the spectrum of cultural imperialism, and how do we get around it?