Pan is an unending barrage of visual effects when it could have sufficed as a magical origins story.

Movie magic and a movie about magic are entirely different, but as we’ve seen before in the similarly themed Jumanji, a film with these motifs can be an overwhelming singularity when done just right. As the seventh film adaptation and loosely based on the original play by J. M. Barrie, Pan is a relentless offering in visual effects to such an extent that eyes will bleed and heads will spin.

Movie magic? As profuse as the fury of an erupting volcano! With the obvious nod to high-end production values, Pan works as an epic fantasy-adventure as along as the CGI onslaught is your cup of tea. And seen in 3D, that’s double the pan-demonium (if you’ll excuse the pun) on the senses and akin to a kid on a sugar overload. Even so, the proverbial bull in a china shop is not the overuse of special effects but fundamental problems with Jason Fuchs’ screen adaptation of Barrie’s story books. On a positive note, I’ll say that Fuchs’ reimagining adds a fresh new spin to the Peter Pan story with a low-key opening segment set in WWII era London. Peter (Australian newcomer Levi Miller) is an orphan with an Oliver Twist (twist) who doesn’t lay down to tyranny in the orphanage. Instead, his reputation as a mischief monger fits snug, and like Matilda in Matilda, gives head nun (ala the Trunchbull) a run for her life. Then one night Peter is snatched by pirates in an ‘airship’ and flown off to the fabled Neverland. Run by the despicable Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), Neverland turns out to be a quarry for pixie dust where children from all over the world are enslaved as miners. Adding another twist is fellow miner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), Peter’s reluctant friend who has his own agenda in escaping Neverland. Together, they proceed to outsmart Blackbeard and his henchmen, and thus begins director Joe Wright’s inexhaustible barrage of CGI bombardment.

Up until this point, Fuchs’ screenplay is a welcome change given previous film adaptations has Hook placed as Peter’s archenemies. But once Peter learns of his latent ability to fly, the film takes a sharp detour into familiar territory. Here on, it’s swashbuckling and platform jumping and repeat, with each skirmish filmed in as many camera angles as possible. Also joining this flying farce is not Tinkerbell, but Tiger Lilly (Rooney Mara), a Native American princess who helps Peter in and out of his adventures. Somehow, Fuchs’ bizarre concoction of character placement works to a certain degree, if only they didn’t end up doing what they do every fifteen minutes or so. With repetitive action scenes taking center stage, the main story takes a back seat, and in the process undermines what could have been an original prequel to the Peter Pan saga. Worst of all, and for a nonstop action film, there isn’t a tense moment throughout its 111 minutes runtime. Neither is there any sense of wonder or charm or the spirit in which Barrie conjured magic with words alone.

With the story overpowered by eye-popping effects, the only saving grace is Jackman’s whimsical delivery as a villain with a hidden motive. Combined with Hook’s Indiana Jones getup and short-lived supporting characters including triplet mermaids and the inescapable crocodile, humor is unmistakable and refreshingly so. It’s just too bad that the film isn’t as special as the titular hero. Take it with a pinch of salt…or pan-cakes with a gallon of syrup. Oops, I did it again.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.