It's a little-known fact of film criticism: Saturday morning screenings are almost universally awful.
Weekend screenings generally mean kids movies. Kids movies always mean a theater full of small children. And, let's face it, even parents of small children rarely enjoy being in the same theater with them.
But the biggest problem with seeing a movie when you're supposed to be in bed is that it can be hard to tell whether you're really awake or simply having some kind of nutso nightmare.
Take the opening scenes of "Pan," the drab, unnecessary prequel from director Joe Wright ("Atonement") and screenwriter Jason Fuchs ("Ice Age: Continental Drift").
During World War II, 12-year-old Peter (newcomer Levi Miller) lives in an orphanage run by a trollish nun (Kathy Burke), who sells the children to pirates as slave labor in their pixie-dust mines. Under the cover of night, the marauders bungee cord down from their flying pirate ship to steal the sleeping orphans from their beds.
Seeing all this, Royal Air Force fighter pilots assume it's an attack by the German Luftwaffe and engage the pirate ship in a battle in the skies above London until it soars into the zero gravity of outer space — without any sort of breathing apparatus — where a tethered Peter begins drifting away like Sandra Bullock in "Gravity."
From there, they head to Neverland, where the crew and its new source of labor are greeted by thousands of pirates and mine workers who, led by the peacockish Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), chant the lyrics to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Moments later, they intone a portion of The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop."
All of that really happened. I know, I couldn't believe it myself. So I double checked.
Now, had the filmmakers decided to maintain the bizarro musical numbers throughout "Pan," it would have been a bold, interesting choice. But the whole idea is dropped almost as quickly as it started. That's just one of several examples of Wright and Fuchs having no idea what audience they're targeting.
As the still two-handed James Hook, who begrudgingly befriends young Peter as they escape from jail and steal a different flying pirate ship, Garrett Hedlund keeps his head forever cocked and exaggerates his movements in a desperate attempt to entertain the youngest viewers. After a brief absence, the soon-to-be captain returns at a key moment with a triumphant, "Did ya miss me?"
Ehh. Not really.
During their adventures, Peter, Hook and Sam "Mr. Smee" Smiegel (Adeel Akhtar) are set upon by enormous, skeletal Neverbirds that shriek and rumble through the jungle like something out of "Jurassic World." Later, they're attacked by Blackbeard and his men in Tiger Lily's (Rooney Mara) tree village, which looks like Eli Roth's cannibalism tale "The Green Inferno" by way of Cirque du Soleil. As her fellow villagers are murdered and even point-blank executed, they explode into a brilliant cloud of dust like something out of a Neverlandian Color Run.
The preening Blackbeard, who comes across like the love child of Lady Gaga and some underdeveloped Sacha Baron Cohen character, is terribly worried about Peter's being the prophesied fairy-human hybrid who would lead Tiger Lily's tribe and overthrow him. At one point, Peter disappears after escaping the clutches of Blackbeard's men, led by Bishop (Nonso Anozie).
Blackbeard: "So the boy's lost?"
Bishop: "Yes. He is a lost boy."
There's some inventive animation sprinkled throughout. Mara is solid as the feisty Tiger Lily. Miller holds his own as Peter. And as for Jackman's Blackbeard, well, at least he seems to be enjoying himself.
Despite its reported $150 million budget, "Pan," is plagued by some special effects that aren't terribly special, including some ludicrously bad flying that will leave older moviegoers longing for Cathy Rigby and her harness.
Its nearly two-hour running time, meanwhile, should ensure its youngest viewers grow bored — when they aren't terrified.
Given how much of "Pan" is frustratingly wrongheaded, the whole thing should have been given the hook long before it ever hit theaters.