Review - 'Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children'
With Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, Tim Burton brings us his best live-action fictional film since Sweeney Todd. Burton's latest successfully blends elements of the X-Men and The Chronicles of Narnia with his instantly recognizable macabre aesthetic. That said; its been a bumpy road for Burton when it comes to live-action fictions as of late, so while Peculiar Children is good, it's still far from great.
The film is based off of the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs. The story follows Jake Portman, a 16-year-old boy who has just witnessed the un-explainable passing of his grandfather. His grandfather always told him stories about a strange place where children with special powers resided. Motivated by his grandfather's last words; Jake travels to Wales to find out for himself if the stories are true, and if he too, possesses a power of his own.
I had a hard time staying completely invested in this film. The movie gets off to a slow start and while it does eventually build momentum, I found myself detached from the setting and the characters for the first 20 minutes or so. The root reason for this was the predictability of it all; we've seen this scenario before, and while it's sometimes fun to watch through the always-inventive lens of Tim Burton, I couldn't help but wish I had a fast-forward button for certain stretches of the movie. Thankfully, the film does pick up steam once Jake reaches Wales and starts unraveling the secrets there. This is mostly due to the welcome change of scenery, effective world-building and the introductions of some likable characters.
Most of the cast turn in solid performances here. Asa Butterfield as Jake is good, though he's a tad overshadowed by everyone around him. I feel that that might have been the intention though as he is a stark contrast to extreme weirdness of everything else. I didn't feel like his character hit any real emotional highs though, and he doesn't have too much charm. Eva Green, who plays the titular Miss Peregrine is great as always. Green's not in the film quite as much as you would expect but she manages to steal every scene she's in. Samuel L. Jackson plays the main baddie, and he is an absolute joy to watch, even though I never felt like he was a true threat. Ella Purnell delivers a good performance as a teenager who floats and has a general mastery of air. Also worth noting are small appearances by the always likable Chris O'Dowd, along with Judi Dench; who has a few very brief scenes, but hey, it's always nice to see her.
I mentioned before that this film has some X-Men and Narnia DNA in its system. The first half of this film, without spoiling anything, is very similar to that of the first X-Men film, with Miss Peregrine functioning as a Charles Xavier of sorts. The Narnia elements are also quite evident, but revealing them would be spoiling key moments in the film, so I won't divulge any further information. While Peculiar Children definitely borrows from other stories, it never feels like it's copying them, so it still felt reasonably fresh to watch even though I always knew where the film was heading.
In terms of tone; this feels decidedly like a Tim Burton film, so you kind of know what you're getting into if you've seen any of his work. The film is shot well and is clearly the work of someone who is confident behind the camera and who knows how to use a large budget. That said, some effects work really well, and some don't. The villains; some of which take on monstrous forms, though conceptually interesting, are not convincing and obviously computer-generated. The finale of the film is also a sad case of quantity over quality in terms of visual effects. Conversely, all of the powers look pretty neat; there's even some effective use of stop-motion at one point in the film which had me wishing that Burton had taken the same approach with the villains. How cool would it be to see a big budget film that utilizes stop-motion extensively? Maybe if that Beetlejuice sequel ever gets made we'll get some more of that.
The film ends in a thematically satisfying way, but not without ignoring tying up a big loose end. You'll know when you see it, but it felt like the film had a bit of crisis between how it should have ended and how it wanted to end. This leads into the editing, which is for the most part solid, but there's some questionable choices that fiddle with the continuity of the film in ways that didn't seem natural, especially right at the end. All in all though, the film held itself together in a way that I could follow without too much trouble.
Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children is a predictable but enjoyable film with some imaginative works of fantasy on display. The movie may seem derivative and slow at times but these moments are always outweighed by the film's many unique ideas and its colorful cast of characters that are clearly having a good time. If nothing else; it's just comforting to watch another competently made Tim Burton movie, even if it's of the lesser variety.