“Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children”
Twentieth Century Fox
Tim Burton’s “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is the latest in a line of young adult films that were expected to set the world on fire. Jake (Asa Butterfield) is a supposedly normal boy thrust into a world of the strange and impossible — a world where time stops, invisibility is real and monsters roam. The film strives to foster the cultural relevance of “Harry Potter” or the “X-Men,” but it fails. Instead, the audience is left with a film that lacks a sense of progression, purpose, logic, style and wonder.
The pacing issues at the heart of the film become apparent almost immediately. The dramatic opening credits pull a comedic 180 and hard cut to a bright, cheery Florida town. On its own, a transition like that is not an issue, but the feeling of being thrown off course is a recurrent one throughout “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.”
The first act begins and ends suddenly. Then the audience is swept off to an entirely new location where events randomly tumble into place. None of the action sequences or emotionally dynamic moments have a chance to breathe. The result is a film that is less like a well-conceived narrative and more like the rambling of a poor storyteller, which is surprising, considering the talent involved.
The usually talented cast — which features Asa Butterfield (“Hugo,” “Ender’s Game”), Eva Green (“Penny Dreadful,” “300: Rise of an Empire”) and Samuel L. Jackson (“The Hateful Eight,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) — gives uncharacteristically poor performances. Jackson’s villainous Barron is particularly hard to believe: His mustache-twirling brand of evil is both distracting and ridiculous. Unfortunately, when one looks past the distracting characterization, there isn’t much else to see.
Tim Burton has a distinct style that, whether one likes it or not, is iconic and visually appealing. The film bears none of the atmospheric flourishes of Burton’s other films; it could have been anyone who directed “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” The writing also lacks any exciting twists and neglects basic character development. It seems as though screenwriter Jane Goldman is writing a tedious X-Men fan fiction, which isn’t surprising considering her previous work includes the vastly superior “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
The worst sin “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” commits is depriving its viewers of a chance to share in Jake’s awe while simultaneously confusing them. The abilities of the Peculiars are a convoluted mess of special effects: They look flashy, but they come across as cheap plot devices. Miss Peregrin’s time-looping ability is the worst of them all: It is nearly impossible to understand. The film ends with a confusing time paradox that exists purely to ensure a happy ending for Jake and his friends.
There are moments when “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” almost approaches greatness and almost draws emotion from the viewer. These moments are the exception. The majority of the film is bland or senseless. The absurdity of the villain’s plot, the uninspired romances and the confusing laws governing the world of the peculiar are obstacles standing in the way of a potentially exciting adventure. This is yet another in a long line of films that favor fast-paced spectacle over slow, awe-inspiring wonder, and it suffers because of it.