[#366Flicks] Peter Pan and the Problem that Plagues Prequels


Minor spoilers for the first 30 minutes of  Pan. Major spoilers for the original story, Peter and Wendy. Just in case.

I’ve always enjoyed the story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. There’s an allure to shirking the responsibilities of adulthood and being care free forever. Also, being able to fly is just plain awesome. Contrasting against the eternal youth of Peter is Captain Hook’s adulthood; a miserable existence characterized by cruelty, deceit, unhappiness, and obsession. Then again, being an evil pirate is pretty awesome too. I should know, I was one! Ultimately, neither extreme is the answer. Wendy, who leaves Neverland to eventually grow up but continues enjoying adventures with Peter as long as she can, is the one who finds the balance.

So when there is a new version of the characters I always take a look. (I will defend RUFIOOOO Hook to this day.) What do you do when the original story has been done and someone already took a shot at exploring what happens afterwards? Prequel time! And that’s what we have with Pan.  I knew almost nothing about this movie going in. I hoped that as we see Peter discover Neverland and become leader of the Lost Boys it would also explore the beginnings of his relationship with Hook. Does Hook resent Peter and his youth? Did something turn Hook cold and bitter? Did Peter wrong Hook in some deeply hurtful way? Is their constant battling actually just one epic game they’re both in on for the fun of the kids Peter brings to Neverland? I wanted to know!

Unfortunately that is not the story of this movie. Instead we have a story about a WWII orphan sold into slavery to pirates led by Blackbeard. Also there is a Prophecy™ that says Peter will be the one to rise up, defeat Blackbeard, and free the child slaves. Along the way Peter hopes to learn more about his parents and why he was left abandoned as a baby. I understand exploring the theme of parents and orphans, that could be interesting.  Not the story I was hoping for, but that’s ok. How is the story we’re given?

I really enjoyed the first 30 minutes or so of this movie. Peter is causing hijinks at the orphanage while London is getting bombed. He is endearing in this opening act and I’m with him in his desire to learn about his parents and why boys keep disappearing in the night. Once Peter is kidnapped by crazy sky pirates we’re treated to really fun visuals of WWII fighter planes dog fighting with a flying pirate ship. At the mines in Neverland we’re accosted by Hugh Jackman looking delightfully silly as Blackbeard. He must have taken lessons from Johnny Depp as he puts on a bunch of makeup to look pale, wears a ridiculous costume, and chews the scenery left and right. Even now I’m still with this movie and it’s particular brand of crazy.

It’s when Peter and his new friend, a roguishly handsome young man (with two hands) by the name of James Hook, escape the mines that everything goes downhill. From then on it’s a rather plain chase movie as everyone races to the macguffin. Here is when the problem with a prequel rears its head. We know where things need to eventually  end up because we know where they start in the next chapter. If a prequel is to succeed you must tell us something new and engaging or subvert our expectations in some way without conflicting with the future status quo. It’s a hard thing to do. So hard in fact that Pan failed to do any of it. At this point it feels like the movie is just ticking boxes on a list it knows it has to hit. References are made to dying being a great adventure, the idea of bad form, thinking happy thoughts, crowing, and why Neverland keeps you young. Some of these are so painfully forced into the dialog I groaned. Couple those with dull stretches of exposition and the fact that we have a fair idea of who will and won’t make it to the end because, once again, it’s a prequel, and nearly all the fun I was having early on deflates. The climax is definitely a treat for the eyes, it LOOKS pretty great, but I’m just not invested.

I’ve adopted a “No Trailers” policy for movies I already know I’m interested in. It really improves the experience, especially since many trailers telegraph every major beat in a movie nowadays. That policy was a double edged sword this time. It helped me really like the first third of this Pan! All the sights were new to me, I had no idea where things were going in this crazy version of the story, and Hugh Jackman seems to explode onto screen when you don’t know what he’ll be like beforehand. But then, if I had watched the trailers, I may have been able to see that the rest of the movie wasn’t going to hold up in the long run.

On the upside, at one point the pirates and their child labor slaves are all singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and later “Blitzkrieg Bop.” So at least they’ve upgraded from all that “yo ho yo ho” nonsense Sparrow keeps singing.

Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):

Tremors 5: Bloodlines – Ground based monsters eat people. Again. I really enjoy the first Tremors! That’s about all I can say for the series. This one is about as hokey as you’d expect. In a bad way. Poor acting, unexciting kills, nothing really worthwhile here. It does however feature Jaime Kennedy and Chekov’s dirt bike!

Tusk – A movie that was essentially made on a dare. Kevin Smith, a guy who’s career is comedy and has become a popular podcaster, writes and directs this movie about a guy who’s career is comedy and has become a popular podcaster. And then is kidnapped in Canada by a crazy old man who loves walruses a little too much and wants to turn our podcaster into one. Yep. Justin Long is almost always good, and is here too…for as long as he’s allowed to speak properly… Make-up effects fall short where it matters, but you can look past those if you take the whole thing a really demented dark farce. Kind of has to be seen to be believed. Also, crazy random cameo from a huge actor in the last 30 minutes.

Zombeavers – Bad acting? Gallons of karo syrup? Gratuitous nudity? Hand puppets? Yep, a it’s a schlocky horror movie. Also so ridiculous you kind of have to see it to believe it. Tusk got by having performances that were actually good and truly unsettling moments before things go bonkers. Zombeavers has none of that and was pretty dull to watch. The only redeeming part was the absurdity of seeing people turn in zombie beaver creatures themselves. Because of course. YouTube those parts for a laugh if you can, skip the rest.

Goosebumps – If you were even remotely cool when I was a kid you read Goosebumps and/or Scary Stories to Read in the Dark, so I had to check this out even though I knew the target audience was younger than me. The movie is indeed very simple and straight forward, but there is a novelty to seeing some of those monsters come to life.  Despite looking a fair bit like the real R.L. Stine, I felt like Jack Black was miscast. His wild and comedic persona didn’t seem to fit well with the character of a creepy reclusive author.  On the flipside, I really enjoy the relationship between the hero and his mother and I wish she had been in it more.

Cooties – I wanted to like this movie. Elijah Wood and his fellow teachers are trapped inside a school when a zombie virus breaks out that only affects people who have not yet gone through puberty. With zombie kids terrorizing an elementary school we get some fun images of playground carnage and school equipment being weaponized, but this movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. It wants to be funny and scary but can’t seem to find the balance so it ends up being neither. There seem to be themes that it would LIKE to explore but it never does, and then the movie just ends. Literally, the credits snuck up on me because I thought the characters were off to resolve the situation in the climax. But no, cut to credits. The whole thing feels like an unfinished idea.

The Final Girls – A group of teens are sucked into a famous 1980s horror movie about summer camp counselors that are stalked and killed by a masked maniac. Luckily, they know the rules of horror movies and use them to fight back. I really liked Taissa Farmiga in American Horror Story and she’s good here too. This movie pokes fun at horror tropes while also having a story about overcoming the loss of a parent and learning to move on without them that is genuinely touching at times. Less horror and more comedy for horror fans, it’s slick and fun to watch.

Can you tell it’s October?

Click here for a full list of movies I’ve watched so far.

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