We’ve been choking on Peter Pans lately — Allison Williams crowing in tights on TV, Finding Neverland on Broadway, the high school production you rightfully dread seeing. The nadir, till now, was Steven Spielberg’s 1991 Hook, with Robin Williams as the grown-up Peter longing for his golden youth and a chance to defeat Dustin Hoffman’s dastardly Capt. Hook. Still, Joe Wright’s origin story of Peter and the lost boys has to be the dimmest, deadliest take ever on J.M. Barrie’s Pan myth.
Peter, played by 12-year-old Aussie Levi Miller (a lovely performance in a luckless film), has been suffering in a London orphanage ducking Nazi bombs. Things aren’t much better when nuns sell off Peter and his fellow orphans to the pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman, so hammy his acting should be served with pineapple). Then it’s off on a flying ship to a steampunk-bleak Neverland where the kids are used as child labor to produce Pixum, the street name for crystalized pixie dust that works as a Fountain of Youth for Blackbeard. Let Walter White’s crystal meth top that!
Jackman’s drag-act pirate king (ruffles, black wig, jagged teeth) didn’t need a chorus of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from his mateys. But that’s what he gets — and later a buccaneer take on the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Blackbeard believes Peter may be the flying boy destined to free the child slaves (duh) so he sends Peter to the plank. But not before Peter makes allies of his pirate-enemy-to-be James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), the only Caucasian among a multi-cultural band of insurrectionists. If you believe in fairies, they are also here, until Blackbeard tries to incinerate them with a blowtorch. WTF!
I’m usually game to follow Wright anywhere, from his literary adaptations (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Anna Karenina) to his foray into fantasy in Hanna. But this is too much, or too little, or not enough. Wright is defeated by a DOA script by Jason Fuchs, cruddy CGI and 3-D special effects that crash and burn at liftoff. This joyless, juiceless Pan is a theme-park ride from hell.