Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Eff the Haters; Pan is Bonkers But Fun

Note date in lower right corner.

When the first trailer for Pan landed - who knows how long ago, since this movie got shelved once or twice - I knew two things immediately: it looked questionable, and my friend JD and I would definitely see it. I don't remember how Peter Pan became a thing for us. We've been friends for over 15 years, and somewhere along the way the Peter Pan thing happened. Maybe because we both watched the Mary Martin version a billion times as children? Because of the Peter Pan marathon party she threw when the terrible sequel Return to Never Land came out in 2002? Because she forced me to read the actual Barrie novel and it was actually really interesting?

Anyways, we were obviously going to see this movie together, despite the Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily drama, despite the weirdness of Flamboyant Blackbeard Hugh Jackman, despite the delayed release, despite the mountain of bad reviews. And so we saw it this past Sunday.

And it was amazing.

I don't mean that it was a masterpiece of cinema. But we had feared a bland, characterless, rote fiasco, and this was a much better kind of fiasco. This is a crazy, loving, fanficish fiasco. Spoilers below.

His boat has his face on it.

It starts out with a not unfamiliar British setting: bright-eyed troublemaker Peter and his best friend get into mischief in an orphanage run by sadistic nuns. Blah blah blah brick in the blah. Then we learn that the nuns are selling children to fantastical flying pirates: Blackbeard and his drag show/circus-themed crew, and Peter is one of the victims.

Let's just focus on that for a moment. This human trafficking deal between English nuns and Neverland pirates is never explained or brought up again. Despite Neverland being unknown in "our" world, these nuns somehow have a way to communicate with the pirates for these transactions. Maybe this is a Vatican secret?

Moving on, as the pirates re-enter Neverland with their human cargo there are some absolutely gorgeous special effects involving fish and crocodiles swimming in floating spheres of water, and then we're in a giant mine and Blackbeard is leading all the miners in singing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" a cappella.

At this point JD and I fucking lost it. WTF was happening? Was this a Moulin Rouge shout-out, since that movie also used that song in similarly blase fashion? Was Blackbeard leading a Nirvana cult? Were they all going to sing "Rape Me" next?

Trying to out-Johnny Depp Johnny Depp.

In the mines where kidnapped men and boys from around the globe dig for pixie dust, which Blackbeard needs to snort through a Darth Vader mask to stay young, Peter meets Captain Hook, who at that point is just Hook and has both hands, and Hook's work buddy Sam "Smee" Smiegel, a clipboard-carrying middle-management guy.

Hook is super hot, a trend started by Jason Isaacs in Universal's 2003 Peter Pan (probably the best version to date) and taken to the next level by Colin O'Donoghue in Disney's franchise soap Once Upon a Time. WB's entry in this Hot Pirate Cold War is Garrett Hedlund, who is indeed very hot and likable. The Hot Pirate Cold War is not entirely non-canon.

I thought Hedlund's voice sounded like Tom Hardy's in Mad Max: Fury Road, and JD thought he sounded like Karl Urban as McCoy in the new Star Trek movies. Both of us assumed he was a non-American trying and failing to do an American accent, but that's actually his voice and he's from Minnesota. That's what Minnesotans sound like, I guess (JD and I are born and bred Silicon Valley girls, so obviously we have no accents...to our ears, at least). Why is James Hook, who in the Barrie story is so English he attended Eton now a Minnesotan miner? Who knows. At least Hook's future life partner Smee is a British person: Adeel Akhtar, best known for prescient terrorism comedy Four Lions.

Peter, Hook, and Smee are hunted by the Neverbird.

After an unremarked upon child murder and Peter waking up in Blackbeard's bed to learn that he's thought to be the foretold messiah of Neverland, Hook, Smee, and Peter manage an escape during which Hook learns to fly a ship in trial-by-fire fashion. Then they crash in the Neverland forest and have some Timon/Pumba/Simba hang-out time until the "Savages" kidnap them.

What to do with the stereotypical Indians of Barrie's 1904 story has been a conundrum for modern retellings. This version decided to go with no Native American imagery and a multicultural cast, including Aboriginal Australian Jack Charles and South Korean Na Tae-joo. But despite considering actresses such as Pooja Hegde and Lupita Nyong'o for the role of Tiger Lily, they went with white Rooney Mara. I mean, I remember my mom explaining the issues with a blonde Tiger Lily back when I was watching the Mary Martin VHS in the early 1990s, and that was a 1960 production. Mara does fine as a slightly cold warrior who eye-fucks Garrett Hedlund, but let's be honest: anyone could eye-fuck Garrett Hedlund.


And here's another big departure from Peter Pan canon: the Hook/Tiger Lily romance. Tiger Lily is traditionally around Wendy's age and like her, gunning for a relationship with Peter that Peter, who will never go through puberty, can vaguely sense but can't fully reciprocate. Here she's older and knew Peter's mother (Amanda Seyfried): a sex slave of Blackbeard's who was saved by the prince of the fairies, fucked that fairy to create Peter, and then returned to Neverland to fight to the death alongside the Tribe and the fairies against the pirates.

By the way, when members of the Tribe die, they explode into brightly colored powder like a Color Run of Death.


Then we've got some pretty typical action-adventure plotting. Smee betrays the group to the pirates (albeit on threat of death), solving/ruining a potential Smee/Hook/Tiger Lily love triangle. Peter can't fly because he doesn't believe in himself. Hook and Tiger Lily eye-fuck, unable to do more since this is a PG movie and they're also with Peter most of the time. Hook takes an abandoned ship and leaves to go back home (Minnesota?) alone, but predictably returns just in time to help save the day, having realized Neverland is his real home (or maybe Minnesota just sucks). Peter and Tinkerbell have an obligatory meeting. Peter believes in himself and flies. Blackbeard is killed. Peter gets to talk with his dead mom via fairies becoming a pixelated image of her?

Anyway, for the happy ending, Peter, Hook, and Tiger Lily take the flying ship back to the orphanage and rescue/kidnap all the orphans. Then the group heads back to "second star to the right and straight on 'til morning."

I liked the ending, but wow... We close with a happy makeshift family: Dad Hook, Mom Tiger Lily, and Son Peter. But the opening narration hinted that the rest of the traditional Peter Pan story will still happen. Which means if we're sticking to canon, at some point:

-Peter chops off Hook's hand and deliberately feeds it to a crocodile
-Tiger Lily develops romantic feelings for Peter
-Hook attempts to murder Tiger Lily by slow drowning, and also wants to murder Peter and the orphanageload of kids he just helped rescue.


On the drive back from the theater, JD and I tried to imagine how this Breaking Bad-level familial destruction would happen. Does Hook take too many "fishing trips" with Smee? Does someone become a blue pixie dust kingpin? Apparently lots of tearful and shouted recriminations are in store for our adorable leads.

Reverse course! Reverse course!

Random notes:

-The movie is beautiful and the 3-D is worthwhile.

-This story starts during WWII, even though the original Peter Pan is placed much earlier. It's possible this flash forward was solely for the Blitzkrieg scene, although I'd like to hold out hope that the time change is meant to indicate we're seeing a different Peter Pan whose new surrogate family maybe won't become a Euripides tragedy.

-Levi Miller is a good child actor. Although this version didn't feel classically "Peter Pan" (this Peter seems too grounded to me to morph into the somewhat sociopathic anti-adult original), the role asked a lot emotionally of its star, and Miller delivered.

-Peter's fairy dad used his one day alive as a human to have sex with Amanda Seyfried. Understandable.

-Speaking of which, I liked that Peter's parents were a "warrior and a prince" instead of the more common "warrior and a princess." I also liked that his mom trained Tiger Lily in warfare.

-When Hook, Smee, and Peter are first captured by the Tribe, to spare their lives Hook has to defeat the Tribe's strongest warrior (in trampoline-aided combat). JD was hoping Hook's Rufio would be that warrior, but alas, I don't think this production had the rights to the sexual awakening of millions of older millennials. Rufio would match the Tribe's crafting-disaster aesthetic, though.


-Astoundingly, Hugh Jackman's weird Blackbeard getup is apparently the one he's worn that most gets his wife's motor running. Do you think they kept the bustle for private use?

-That Hook is a good guy softie in this version is a huge change, but I think it makes sense when you consider the history and meta nature of the Hook role. Traditionally, the actor playing Hook also plays Mr. Darling (originally Barrie was going to have Hook be a double role for the Mrs. Darling actress, but changed it to Mr. Darling before showtime). The idea is that for children, adults - especially parents - are both loving protectors and meanie villains who don't let you do what you want. With gentle, nerdy Mr. Darling (the Disney animated movie slanders him) out of the picture for this film, Hook takes on a welcomed paternal role for Peter's early years as Peter Pan. The hand-chopping times come closer to adolescence when you start getting weird feelings about Mom.

-There will probably not be a sequel, and I kind of hope there's not. I enjoyed this movie, and I love King Lear, but I don't want to see Peter Pan: King Lear. I'm just going to imagine everything's nice and peaceful and that when Hook and Tiger Lily have ridiculously gorgeous children, Smee babysits. Basically, this is not a remix I would have ever imagined, but I was won over.

-Other not-so-bleak possibility for the future: maybe Hook will have to fill the power void left by Blackbeard in order to prevent someone worse from doing so, and he'll have some sort of "we'll pretend to be enemies but not really" arrangement with the Tribe and the Lost Boys a la Wicked or The Dark Knight? If I'm overthinking this, I blame being up at 5am with kidney stones.

Actually...she is kinda checking him out in 1911.

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1911 title page: Wikipedia