In 1989 Tim Burton started the modern superhero movie craze with Batman, his interpretation of the long running comic book character. A few years later he followed up with the sequel Batman Returns, but while he would always have a fondness for unusual, fantastic characters and stories, that was to be the last of Burton’s true superhero stories, even though it’s well known that he also wanted to bring his version of Superman to the big screen. I mention this because I strongly believe that his latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, comes from a desire to bring his own version of the X-Men to your local cineplex since he most likely will never get a chance to direct one of the movies in Fox’s franchise himself.
Jake is a teenager who witnesses the death of his grandfather, a man who told him many outlandish but exciting stories when Jake was a young boy, at the hands of something unworldly, but is then convinced through psychiatric treatment that what he witnessed was just his mind playing tricks on him due to intense stress. When this same psychiatrist recommends Jake take a trip to a very sparsely populated island off the coast of England, Jake discovers that his grandfather’s stories were real and that he and his grandfather shared a power, or “peculiarity” as the film’s denizens call it.
Does this set up sound familiar? If so, it means you’ve seen Tim Burton movies before, though it’s certainly original enough that it isn’t a copy of any of his earlier films, merely heavily influenced by quite a few. Miss Peregrine’s (I am not going to by typing out the full title anymore) does have the quirky, dark yet gleeful style that Tim Burton is known for but he seems a bit more restrained in tone this time around than usual. Whether this restraint is due to the fact that he’s interpreting a novel (probably not, see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) or just due to a directorial decision, I have to say that it works. This is a story that could easily go off the rails if allowed to indulge in every single strangeness of character and story, and it nearly does that anyway even with Burton’s decision to reign things in, but somehow barely manages to stay on track throughout it’s running length.
What it doesn’t manage to do, unfortunately, is develop any of its many characters to any significant degree nor establish why its fantastic rules exist, even though it does do an admirable job of sticking to the rules it sets up especially considering time travel and so many fantastic powers and abilities are involved in the story. The peculiar children of the title are outcasts from society and could not interact with the regular world even if they wanted to. I won’t go into the details of how that is so as not to spoil anything, but the details of why they have to live like that is never in any way made even remotely clear. Since this living situation is absolutely integral to the story, and this integral part of the story is never made any sense of, the story itself becomes a set of dominoes where if you push one over, the whole thing falls apart bit by bit. I don’t expect nor want absolute realism in a Tim Burton movie, but it’s no better to realize that the only reason the story exists at all is to shore up some, admittedly very fun, action and special effects set pieces as thinking at all about the crux of the story leads to all of it unraveling.
All the acting in Miss Peregrine’s is unfortunately inconsistent. Every actor here, child and adult alike, has at least a few scenes which magnificently draw you into their performance and elicit powerful emotional responses, but every actor also has a few scenes in which they seem like they are reading lines from a teleprompter and don’t really understand what the words they’re speaking mean. It’s quite distracting, and baffling as to how such wildly inconsistent performances could have made it to the final cut of a film, yet there they are.
The visuals are also very inconsistent, but here I’m quite sure that was a purposeful choice and in this case those choices added to the fun to be had in the movie. There is a lot of CGI on display in Miss Peregrine’s, but every once in a while, Tim Burton decides to use old-fashioned stop motion animation, and not even in a very polished way, but effects that look like Harryhausen’s old Clash of the Titans and Sinbad films. It’s not often, and it most certainly calls attention to itself when it’s done, but I found the use of this style nostalgically entertaining more than distracting. The art direction is also handled very well, and with a wide range of styles from rustic to gothic to suburban to amusement park and many others in between. Most settings are wonderful to look at and the scenery is quite possibly the best part of movie.
With his plot involving children with powers being trained by an adult woman with powers of her own being hunted down by another adult with similar powers, Tim Burton really gives us his version of and X-Men style superhero film in Miss Peregrine’s. This version of the story is pretty good, but never reaches great, and can be a whole lot of fun despite a nearly unforgivable number of inconsistencies, and is definitely an original spin on an old tale. Miss Peregrine’s is a film I recommend, but not wholeheartedly. If you aren’t a fan of more fantastic concepts and characters in a film, then there won’t be much here for you as the plot really falls apart under any scrutiny whatsoever. However, if you can have fun just watching concept characters in a madcap story then this is worth at least catching at a matinee
Rating: 6.2 out of 10