On its surface the latest quirky Tim Burton movie, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, appears to be a not-so-subtle rip off of Marvel’s X-men comics and the 20th Century Fox films (i.e. Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters) – the basic concept is certainly the same. Peregrine, however, is set apart by Burton’s eccentric and often fun filmmaking style.
This movie works best when it is at its strangest, but at times it feels like Burton was either asleep at the wheel or, potentially, being restrained from going spectacularly weird (or peculiar, add it were.)
Maybe the studio (Fox) was holding him back, or perhaps the filmmaker was simply trying to stick closely to the source material, the young-adult novel with the same name by Ransom Riggs. I can’t speak to that possibility – as I haven’t read the novel – but in any case I think this would have been a much better film if Burton had gone full Burton, a la Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice. (Anything…?)
This movie tells the story of young Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield of Ender’s Game), whose grandfather, Abraham (Terence Stamp), is killed under unusual circumstances, with his eyes plucked out by a tall slender-man like monster called a “hollowgast.” As you might have already guessed, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not necessarily for children, especially of the squeamish and easily-frightened variety.
Jake, with the help of his psychiatrist, convinces his parents that a trip to a dreary island in Wales will help the young man overcome the grief of losing his grandad, who visited the island during World War II and often told stories about a mysterious home located there.
Wacky creatures, kids and time-altering adventures ensue as Jake discovers Miss Peregrine (Eva Green from Penny Dreadful) and her infamous mansion, but in doing so he’s inadvertently led the evil Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) and his band of hollowgasts to the secret location, where they intend to kill the Peculiars and feast on their eyeballs – thus gaining immortality.
I love time-traveling films and this one has a pretty fun take on that sci-fi standard, but I have to admit I got lost with some of the time-looping activity going on here and finally just gave up on keeping track of it and just went with the flow.
Miss Peregrine has some very spectacular and inventive imagery, but I have to say I think I would have enjoyed it more in 2D format, versus the (as usual) dark and muddy 3D experience. There are some underwater sequences in particular that are awesome cool and that got me excited to see what the special effects industry does for the upcoming Aquaman movie.
The film also stars Judi Dench as Miss Avocet, who, like Miss Peregrine, is a shape-shifting, time-looping falcon. The other standout is Ella Purnell, who plays Emma Bloom, a peculiar teen with the ability to control air. (Purnell also played the uncredited body-double for the young Jane Porter in The Legend of Tarzan.) The screenplay adaptation was written by Jane Goldman of Kingsman: The Secret Service and X-Men: Days of Future Past fame.
Unlike its winged titular heroine, this film never really soars in the way it could have. Burton, for whatever reason, did not appear to be firing on all cylinders, although when he hits the right mark, he can still wow an audience, and this movie does have its moments. Grade: 6.5/10
Photos © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation