Published Oct 02, 2016On the surface, there are no surprises in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, the Tim Burton-directed adaptation from the Ransom Riggs' children's book. As with Burton's previous adaptations of vaguely Victorian source material, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, it's all eye-popping visuals and no storytelling substance.
The story follows down-and-out 16-year-old Jake Portman as he follows a string of clues from his dying grandfather, which lead him to a mysterious boarding home on a remote island in Wales, where he finds the titular home — think a twee, Victorian version of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters — and discovers a network of homes for kids with special powers. Of course, he joins forces with them against a mysterious cabal of sinister baddies.
The film spends too much time with clunky exposition; by the time we meet the supporting characters — the precocious, superpowered Peculiars, whose abilities like levitation and invisibility are showcased in dazzling sequences — we're already a third of the way in, and any answers to the (many) questions brought up are shoehorned into the latter parts of the film as an unwelcome reprieve from the escalating action.
It's not just the plot that suffers from uneven pacing; the characters, too, are left underdeveloped. Asa Butterfield has staked his claim as the heir-apparent to the throne of supernatural, young adult epics thanks to his starring roles in Hugo and Ender's Game, but his performance as Jake Portman here is lacklustre. This comes at the expense of the film's supporting cast, including the film's titular character.
Eva Green plays the nurturing and ominous Miss Peregrine, but her lack of characterization and minimal development betrays the notion that Green is a stand-in for Helena Bonham Carter, Burton's frequent collaborator and former domestic partner. Few have mastered the gothic, hawkish presence that is Bonham Carter's calling card, but Miss Peregrine's small role does little to identify whether or not Green is a worthy substitute — and even so, by not moving past the archetypes of his previous films, Burton continues to remain stuck in the patterns of his past.
The film also gives no nuanced motivation to its antagonists, the dastardly Wights. We the audience know they are bad because they antagonize the protagonists, but their haphazard origins fail to give them any nuance or characterization. Even Samuel L. Jackson as the Wights' shapeshifting leader is good for nothing beyond a few zingers.
Once you factor in more trite symbolism (when Jake goes back in time, the film's drab colour palette is spontaneously brightened; the Wights' monstrous lackeys are called Hollowgasts, which Jake's grandfather Abraham fought in the 1940s), it's clear that Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a messy paint-by-numbers film for children that is too ambitious for its own good, collapsing beneath the weight of its complexity. Burton falling on old tropes doesn't help either, instead proving that, much like the characters, he too is trapped in old habits, and his failure to move forward carries damning implications. (Fox)