Pity poor Miss Peregrine. As the headmistress of a small school that harbors superpowered children, she’s the only adult amidst a bunch of youths that would be considered freaks and oddities by the outside world. What’s worse, the school is trapped in a time loop, with its inhabitants forced the relive the same day over and over again. Imagine that: trapped for eternity with a group of never aging adolescents. The horror.
Worse still, Miss Peregrine is relegated to a bit role in a movie that bears her name in the title, forced to play second fiddle to a bunch of Victorian-era X-Men. This would be fine if the children were interesting, but they’re roughly drawn, bland sketches of characters that are hard to care for. The titular Peculiar Children are, for the most part, only peculiar in that they have powers and visually look like almost nightmares. They are, as a group, defined in this movie by what they can do, so when monsters threaten their decades-long time loop, the best thing you can really hope for is the action that they can hopefully deliver is ingenious and intense.
That action is pretty disappointing, though.
And that’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children in a nutshell. The elements are all here for an exciting modern fable, with invisible tentacle monsters, time travel, and a group of children with genuinely interesting abilities all wrapped inside a touching tale of what it’s like to grow up as someone different. But all this potential is whiffed, and aside from looking splendid, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children feels hollow.
That hollowness doesn’t come from a lack of trying, though. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is stuffed with plot, starting in the present day with Jake (Asa Butterfield), a descendant of a former charge of Miss Peregrine. After his grandfather’s grisly murder, Jake begins to suspect that there may be some truth to the stories his grandfather used to tell him, so he travels to the other side of the world to try and find Miss Peregrine and her strange school. When he finally finds the school, he discovers it’s in a time-loop, with its inhabitants trapped in a single day in 1943 to prevent the school from being destroyed by Nazi warplanes.
The whole Nazi thing proves incidental, though, as the real threat is soon uncovered: a menacing group of “Peculiar” people who are hunting down other Peculiars (particularly children). Miss Peregrine and other headmistresses like her have created time loops around the world as a way of hiding from these evil-doers, but Jake’s arrival causes an upheaval that threatens to expose the school’s carefully hidden location.
It’s this generosity of plot that makes Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children feel so paradoxically light. As well as introducing the complicated world of peculiars and timeloops, the film has to work in a huge cast of characters, service Jake’s family story, and shove in an uninteresting romance. The result is a film that feels rushed despite its two hour plus runtime, and a world that you feel like you barely know by the time the credits roll.
It’s a shame, too, that the most interesting character–that of Miss Peregrine–is barely seen. Played with dialed-up eccentricity by Eva Green, Miss Peregrine is a joy every time she’s on-screen, with her prim Englishness and precise demeanour making her a standout. Samuel L. Jackson, too, makes the most of his brief appearance as the film’s big bad, playing the role at all times with a self-knowing grin.
The peculiar children, then, are left to carry the film, and what should have been an exciting climax that finally showed just how well the kids could utilise their powers to overcome the bad guys just ends up being a mess. It’s disappointing when characters that can control fire, or air, or have super strength, or literally shoot bees from their mouth, become bystanders in the film’s climactic action scene, to be replaced by a bunch of CGI creatures doing battle. It’s a wasted opportunity.
At the very least Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children looks visually sumptuous, with director Tim Burton’s default gothic inspiration resulting in some truly interesting design choices. The film’s invisible, tentacled monsters, in particular, stand out as being particularly creepy. Burton–the visionary director behind such films as Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Beetlejuice, and Mars Attacks–has never lost his sense of style. But with Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, that style clearly can’t make up for the lack of substance.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Visually quite sumptuous||The children are a bland bunch|
|Great performance from Eva Green||Weak, uninteresting action|