If J.M. Barrie had written "Peter Pan" in the 21st century, he would have made his iconic creation a superhero, or a Jedi prodigy. This seems to be the view taken by director Joe Wright, at least. Wright makes his new 3-D riff, "Pan," an origin story squarely in line with the fanboy zeitgeist, right down to casting Hugh Jackman as the even archer arch-nemesis we mainstreamers somehow never knew about. The filmmakers might as well have called this one "Pan Begins" — but give them moxie points for going with the title that they did, critics and their potential snarky jabs be darned.
As it turns out, "Pan" is passable adventure that offers the occasional flash of real cleverness. It's not a breakout melding of the flair Wright has demonstrated for action (the junior-assassin portrait "Hanna") and particularly period drama ("Atonement"), but it's diverting enough.
Likable newcomer Levi Miller plays Peter, first shown as an infant being mysteriously deposited at a London orphanage, and then, during the Blitz, as a restless boy rebelling against the nasty old nuns running the place. Their despicable ways run even deeper than Peter suspects — they've been selling kids off to pirates who magically swoop from the night sky and pluck them up like alien abductees. Peter's own kidnapping supplies the film's most thrilling action, as the raiders' airborne ship dodges RAF fighters and rockets up among the stars en route to Neverland.
Enter Jackman as the villainous Blackbeard (not Captain Hook), a conquistador-styled dandy with bad teeth and, beneath his fabulous wigs, a pate as freakishly arresting as Wolverine's biceps. (The movie's other big qualification for best costume design consideration: Rooney Mara's over-the-top native princess Tiger Lily, rocking a craft yarn headdress straight from the Katy Perry Collection.) Blackbeard keeps his lost boys slaving away in a quarry, mining for the "pixum" he snorts (!). Even the anachronistic soundtrack here packs grungy inspiration.
And then, like fairy dust, this originality gradually fades away, a gauzy memory. Peter is revealed to be a long-prophesied savior who'll lead the fairies against Blackbeard, if only he can figure out how to fly. He finds a roguish quarry ally in frontiers-y, two-fisted James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), who's a bland Han Solo to Peter's Luke, and who's asked to wink at their preordained enmity a bit more than necessary. Ultimately, despite its departures from Barrie and Disney, "Pan" is content to sail familiar seas.
★ ★ ½
Directed by Joe Wright. Written by Jason Fuchs. Starring Levi Miller, Hugh Jackman, Garrett Hedlund, Rooney Mara. Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 111 minutes. PG (fantasy action violence, language, and some thematic material).
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.