Join ScreenCritics Adam as he takes a look at one of 2016’s more interesting offerings. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children.
You could write a whole thesis on Tim Burton and you know, some people probably have. For the first part of his career, he seemed to be a master of the art form. He could do odd weird stuff like Beetlejuice, go do a brilliant studio mandated blockbuster like Batman and cap it off with an indie masterpiece like Ed Wood. However it soon wrong. Burton had a few duds like his remake of Planet of the Apes and seemingly because of that, he started over-relying on his weird and dark style and a few actors such as Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. Is Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children a break from that style or just more of the same.
Jacob (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) sees his granddad Abe (Terence Stamp, Wanted) get killed a monster, so he heads to the UK where he spent time with a mysterious Miss Peregine (Eva Green, Casino Royale). He soon discovers her home for children who have peculiar abilities which is stuck in a time loop in 1943 where a bomb is set to destroy the house at the end of the day.
And I suppose we better talk about this first, this film is pretty much a rip off of X-Men. And I know it’s pretty easy to throw that at a film which has a group of people learning to use their abilities at a big stately home with an adult leader, but it isn’t just that, though a lot of it is just that. When Miss Peregine explains how these kids got their powers, an explanation I wasn’t really looking for as I was pretty happy with that mystery being unresolved, she says it’s down to the genes and goes into a deep explanation of that. And you don’t need a lot of familiarity with the X-Men films or comics to know that is also how the mutants have their powers. I know this is based on a series of books, but they are so similar it is rather distracting.
So it is up to Tim Burton as director to give us enough differences to make sure we end up forgetting all about Professor X, Magneto and Wolverine. And that difference is his unique style. Yes, while he did take a break from his usual sort of film with the great Big Eyes, he’s back doing what he knows. Gothic atmosphere, weird characters, but it’s the plain as white bread guy that comes in and saves the world. The gender of the last part of that formula can be changed. Now his style isn’t terrible and it’s better than it was during the 2000s simply because the people ripping him off have now disappeared, but it’s still very familiar. He’s been doing this since the 1980s and quite frankly, I’m rather bored of it.
That’s not say there isn’t some uniqueness in all of this. For instance, the powers of the children are rather cool and aren’t traditional superpowers, which is basically the major difference between this film and X-Men. The romantic interest and Burton’s obligatory pale white girl Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell, Never Let Me Go) is lighter than air, so she floats and usually wears special boots which keep her grounded. And thankfully, it’s not just something that looks good on the poster. It’s used well in the plot to help defeat the villain and advance the plot, and all the kids have powers which a little bit different from what you usually see. It’s the most refreshing part of the film.
They are helped by a set of great performances. Burton firstly gets a lot of good from what is a young cast, with Butterfield being of particular note for elevating what could have ended up being a very bland and possibly irritating protagonist into something better and more emotionally involved than that. The supporting cast all do solid stuff as well, you do end up feeling like all the kids in the house are real people and as the writing is good but nothing special, that’s down to them. But all the praise has to go to Eva Green. She’s coming off the back of her brilliant performance in Penny Dreadful and she’s here for fun, and it shows. She dominates the screen anytime she’s on and you can’t turn away when she’s on. Unfortunately she’s not in the film as much as you’d expect for someone whose name is on the name of the movie, but she makes the most of that screen time.
But while the film does try even towards the end, it does end up being rather generic. They end up in modern day Blackpool, which is probably the most depressing thing in the entire movie, and it becomes a generic battle to beat the Slenderman-like Hollowghasts and their leader Mr Barron (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction). Despite Jackson doing his usual thing, he can’t really do much with the lack of material he is given as the film winds down and simply tries to get done as soon as possible. There’s the infuriating part where the Peculiars lead some of the monsters into a trap, even though Mr Barron realises it’s a trap he just lets some of his minions get defeated and the emotional gut punch of the film being reversed, so you feel cheated. It’s just a poor ending.
Even without the poor ending, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children suffers from the fact we are just too familiar with this sort of thing. The idea of children with abilities being sent away to a house has been done not just in X-Men, which the film not just borrows but steals from, but in the Harry Potter franchise as well. And while Burton doesn’t go as deep with the style as he usually does, it’s still something he can’t get away from which is a shame as the very human drama of Big Eyes was so refreshing just two years ago. So in the end, you get a generic blockbuster with some decent performances.