By Andrew Haas
Tim Burton is one of my personal favorite directors, for the most part. He has been a very influential filmmaker with a hit or miss track record. Many of his films like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands are considered classics, while 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and 2001’s Planet of the Apes aren’t looked at too kindly. When I heard he was directing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I did not know what to expect. I haven’t read the original book and from what I hear, people are rather mixed about it. To me, it looked like a cross between X-Men and Harry Potter, which could be interesting. While Burton’s flare does make this a joy to look at, the story choices seem very, well, peculiar.
Asa Butterfield plays sixteen-year old Jake Portman, whose grandfather has met a terrible fate. Wanting some closure, he discovers clues to a mystery that bring him back in time to a “Home For Peculiar Children” run by Miss Peregrine, played by Eva Green.
If there’s one thing I can count on in a Burton flick, it’s that the imagery will at the very least look cool. I do like looking at the world this film creates. There are some neat concepts behind these kids and the way people play with time. The effects are pretty solid, from one kid’s invisibility to a fun climax with a bunch of Harryhausen-esque skeletons. There’s even a small scene that utilizes stop motion, which I tend to enjoy. However, where most Burton films would have stylish cinematography to make the weird and creative setting stand out, the shots here are more restrained and bland.
A cool world means nothing without engaging characters. While Miss Peregrine and some of the kids have plenty of charm, they don’t fully make up for the rest. I will say the villain, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is having the most fun with his performance. The problem with him, as well as with the other antagonists, is that they serve as a generic threat to give the film some bit of conflict. Sure, they do disturbing things like devouring eyeballs, but they’re little more than just monsters to stop.
The weakest character, and the reason the story doesn’t always work, is the main character himself. Butterfield as Jake does the best he can with what’s given to him, but that doesn’t make up for the lack of an interesting personality. He’s the typical down on his luck adolescent nobody who discovers a special place and might even be special himself. Not only has this been done so much, and way better in other films, but all he does in this film is ask questions so other characters can dump exposition. It’s like the writers thought the world was too complex for audiences to experience, so they made Jake as a stand-in to have everything explained. Very little happens in this movie because it’s too busy giving this kid world building lectures.
When the conflict finally kicks in, there are some bright spots like a fun climactic skeleton battle. But when the kids start fighting the the big bad monsters, some of their abilities seem way too convenient, even making me wonder why some powers couldn’t have been used earlier. However, they still do more than Jake, who can barely shoot a crossbow.
While there are solid ideas in Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, they don’t make up for a muddled plot and a blank slate protagonist. While far from Tim Burton’s worst film, it still could’ve been much better. My guess is the makers of this wanted to be faithful to the book without looking into what wouldn’t translate well. I’d give this movie a solid rental.