In all fairness, you can’t defend a choice that was made for you posthumously. Nevertheless, your involvement with Pan—however tangentially, and seemingly in opposition to what you stood for as an artist—is a metaphor for everything wrong with this ill-conceived mess of a movie.
And that’s a lot.
I had my first misgivings about this wannabe origin story for Peter Pan when, walking into the screening, I noticed the poster proudly proclaiming “From the studio that brought you Harry Potter”. That’s right; Not the director. Not the writer. Not the producer. Hell, not even the generic we’re-out-of-all-the-other-options catch-all, “creators”. When the main driving force behind a film’s creation is the entity responsible for financing, packaging and distributing, and then repackaging and redistributing the product ad nauseam, you know exactly what they’re going to go for: a sure bet.
And in Hollywood, the only sure bet is to copy what has come before. Play things as safe as possible in a desperate attempt to use nostalgia as a business plan. Everything you railed against, Kurt.
What we get is supposedly the untold origin of Peter Pan, because, as the opening voiceover informs us, “Sometimes, to truly understand the end, you must know the beginning.” Right.
I read that as; “Sometimes to create a franchise, we need to make a convoluted mythology that rips off previous, better works in a lazy attempt to reap profit.” Sure, many great works of art have been assembled from the structures and details of what came before. You even said as much about your seminal Smells Like Teen Spirit, claiming it was your attempt to write a Pixies song. You mimicked their style and structure to make your own song.
That worked. This doesn’t.
Let’s break down the aforementioned Harry Potter kinship, shall we? The abandoned child, his horrible upbringing (one could claim this has a Dickens influence to it, but who are we kidding here?), his mysterious “destiny” that will be revealed to us – but not too fast, as there are future films to be made.
In Pan’s one fun bit, the orphanage has secretly been selling boys to the pirates who arrive via flying sailing ships and bungee jump through the roof and steal children right from their beds. It’s an exciting image that also taps into that basic childhood nightmare logic, and is something Pan desperately could have used more of.
The inventiveness mainly stops there, and unfortunately, another main influence for Pan is Star Wars. No, not the good ones. The Prequels. Having died in 1994, you mercifully did not have to watch George Lucas do his best to undo everything audiences loved about his franchise. Yes, Pan introduces all the future major players with the subtlety George Lucas used when Obi-wan Kenobi told Anakin Skywalker, “Someday, you’ll be the death of me.” Even though Hugh Jackman’s Blackbeard is Pan’s central villain, there’s room to force in Captain Hook as a pal Peter makes working in Blackbeard’s mines, searching for
unobtainium pixie dust. This version of Hook is a wise-cracking rascal with a heart of gold in the mold of Han Solo wearing an Indiana Jones hat. Apparently, writer Jason Fuches thought Harrison Ford’s IMDB page was enough research to create this character. I suppose that idea’s not bad on paper, but since Garret Hedlund plays Hook with all the charisma of a Jai Courtney, we’ll never know if it could work off the page.
How, you might wonder, did you get mixed up in all of this? For some reason, someone, at some point, thought it would be a great idea to incorporate modern alternative and punk songs as anthems chanted by Blackbeard’s slave army. It’s used as diegetic music within scenes. Whenever Blackbeard makes an entrance, soot-covered children and motley pirates shout in unison “Here we are now, entertain us!”. They also shout out “Hey, ho, let’s go!’, because, yes, The Ramones’ also got sucked into this. How? Good question. My best guess is that while hurriedly gathering the books and DVDs to pilfer for story ideas, your CDs accidentally got mixed in, and whoever received everything just went with it, whether it made sense or not. That theory would at least explain why this conceit is used exactly twice in the movie then abandoned.
Maybe director Joe Wright is to blame. While this is a pretty impersonal piece of filmmaking, the addition of these songs—as badly conceived and executed as their inclusion is—seems born from the kind of out-of-left-field approach that would never make it through a committee-driven process. And apart from you and Joey Ramone, I worry that Wright is the other casualty of Pan. Coming in at just under two hours, things move so fast and make so little sense, it feels like a good hour of story was left on the cutting room floor. Maybe Wright’s vision was bigger and bolder and had more nuance. Maybe he wanted Amanda Seyfried to do more than drop Peter off at the orphanage, or have Cara Delvingne to do more than literally pop her head out of a pool and smile, before swimming away. I could try to list every slapped together element in Pan but the plot is such a mess hurtling towards something, anything, that much of it left my mind as I left the theatre.
What remains is the little good and much of the bad. Performance-wise, Jackman actually brings a surprising amount of depth to Blackbeard, considering none of it seems to have been into the script. As Tiger Lily, here reimagined as a kind of tribal Princess Leia/Arwen/, the biggest impression Rooney Mara makes is in how out of place she looks in an aboriginal tribe. (Note to the casting department: the “Lily” in Tiger Lily’s name does not stand for “lily white”.)
So that’s what your music is being used for in the absence of your control. While I’m sorry I don’t have better news to report, I though you needed to know. And, if there is any sort of bright side, it might be this: as appropriate as it may have been to comment on how Pan has its way with J. M. Barrie’s original source material, at least no one decided to use “Rape Me”.
Here, but not entertained,