“Pan,” which opens Friday, hit some speed bumps long before it even started shooting. Director Joe Wright’s Peter Pan origin story, written by Jason Fuchs, ran into trouble when word trickled out that white actress Rooney Mara had been cast as the Native American princess Tiger Lily. The internet exploded over yet another example of Hollywood white-washing.
Wright tried to quell his detractors, explaining that the tribe of Neverland natives he envisioned were a multi-ethnic group. (And indeed they are a veritable Benetton ad of warriors, even if none of them have substantial speaking parts except for Mara.) In addition to that bit of casting, costume designer Jacqueline Durran exercised plenty of caution with wardrobe choices. Sure, Tiger Lily wears a headdress, but it’s in the shape of a nun’s habit, and with all the colorful yarn and fluffy pompons, it looks more like a tiny window treatment you’d find on Etsy than an authentic piece of ceremonial garb.
The fact that Mara was cast in a traditionally Native American role is a sad testament to the way Hollywood operates. But now that the movie is on the big screen, we know that “Pan” has much bigger problems than obtuse-yet-predictable casting decisions.
Here are some other grievances.
Fanciful mass shootings
The villain in “Pan” is a bipolar pirate, Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), who’s on the hunt for our 12-year-old hero, Peter (Levi Miller). When Blackbeard and his cronies stumble upon Peter, who’s camped out with Tiger Lily and her tribe, the buccaneers massacre the natives. It would have been a bloodbath, if this weren’t a PG-rated fantasy. So to make the death and destruction more kid-friendly, every victim is transformed into a cloud of colorful dust upon getting shot.
Of course no one making a family-targeted movie wants to give children nightmares, but considering the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S., the choice to make murders look extravagantly whimsical is tone deaf at best.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” as a pirate anthem
When Peter is kidnapped from his orphanage and flown into Neverland aboard an airborne ship, he’s greeted by an entire canyon of pirates singing Nirvana’s greatest hit as Blackbeard makes his grand entrance. It’s certainly an original choice, but also a totally perplexing one that raises a lot of questions, such as: Isn’t this movie supposed to take place during World War II? Wait a second — is “Pan” a musical? (It’s not.) What kind of crew of ruthless characters greets their commander in song? And, lastly, why would anyone pass up a perfectly good excuse to sing a shanty?
The whole bad guys are good guys thing
These days, all our heroes are antiheroes, which apparently means that our villains must be ... antivillains? Or something like that. Just look at the maternal “Maleficent” and “Wicked’s” Witch of the West, who’s really just a victim of bullying with daddy issues.
Along those same lines, “Pan” introduces us to future bad guy James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), a roguish Indiana Jones wannabe with two good hands and no ostentatious facial hair. In the movie, he isn’t evil so much as a tad antisocial. And he and Peter join forces in their fight against Blackbeard.
All the cliches
To name a few: There’s the orphan hero, the evil nuns, the “chosen one” narrative, the origin story prequel, the magical totem (in this case a pan-flute pendant. Get it? Pan?), the obstacle course of a journey to Mordor — oops, I mean the fairy capital — and the ham-handed love story, all wrapped in the package of a bloated high-budget blockbuster.
Warning: The last transgression contains spoilers.
The way ‘Pan’ so conspicuously aims for a sequel
As soon as we see the not-yet-a-captain Hook and Peter teaming up, it’s clear that part of “Pan” will be about whatever drove a wedge between the future adversaries.
Amanda Seyfried’s narration at the beginning of the movie tells us, “sometimes friends begin as enemies and enemies begin as friends. Sometimes, to truly understand how things end, we must first know how they begin.” Only, at the end of “Pan,” Peter, Tiger Lily and James Hook fly off toward the horizon on the Jolly Roger talking about what great friends they are. This can only mean two things. One: the movie is setting us up for “Pan 2,” when we’ll actually see the fissures form in the pair’s friendship. And secondly, we’ve been lied to. We might know how things began, but it’s brought us no closer to understanding how things end.