The review is almost as long as the title!
The last few years of Tim Burton’s career have been far from his finest. The director that was once lauded for his creativity and striking work with the whimsically dark and surreal has fallen into a bit of a rut with his last few films ranging from mediocre to disappointing. Miss Peregrine’s is of course classic Burton material, so there are high hopes for this film to be the one to right the ship.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children tells the story of Jacob “Jake” Portman (Butterfield). Jake, after experiencing a horrific family tragedy in the death of his beloved grandfather (Stamp), decides to follow his grandfather’s dying wishes and travels to Wales, wherein he discovers the mysterious home of Miss Peregrine (Green) and her charges: a set of strange children possessed of “peculiarities” that give them strange powers.
While Miss Peregrine’s certainly has its missteps, where it shines is when it indulges in the sheer joy and creativity of its premise. Miss Peregrine’s has a number of sequences and scenes that are weird, wonderful, and charming, creating some genuinely memorable moments and lasting images and scenes. One of the film’s final action scenes is a particular joy to watch, and it’s in this scene and the other scenes like it where Miss Peregrine’s really starts firing on all cylinders and becomes very entertaining. Some of the film’s particularly striking scenes and visuals are a very welcome reminder of just how great Burton can be in producing wonderfully weird and memorable visuals when given the right material to work with. Though Miss Peregrine’s often strays into highly predictable territory, the premise and the ways in which it is used means the familiarity of the plot becomes less frustrating and more satisfying in the way in which the familiar plot elements are used in conjunction with the premise of the film.
As you might have noticed, Miss Peregrine’s also has something of a star-studded cast, and they deliver, for the most part. Eva Green is, of course, just wonderful as Miss. Peregrine herself, and once again proves that she is really great at being an eccentric posh English lady, and it’s a good thing too, because that kind of casting isn’t likely to end for Green anytime soon. That said, Both Green and Peregrine ended up feeling more than a little under-utilized as the plot’s focus shifts from her to the younger members of the cast, leaving her role in the film to be a little wanting. This is equally true of Samuel. L. Jackson, who plays the villainous Baron. Jackson’s performance is delightfully hammy and entertaining, with Jackson clearly having fun in the role. Of course, Jackson unfortunately doesn’t really turn up until well at the film’s halfway point, meaning that like Green he feels decidedly under-utilized. “Under-utilized” is a recurring phrase because it’s also a good way to describe the roles of veteran actors Stamp and Dam Judi Dench as well, who are both great for the very limited time they get in the film.
While it might seem sensible for a film like Miss Peregrine’s to focus on its peculiar children, its unfortunately their performance that lets the film down a little. While nobody was terrible by any stretch of the imagination, many of the lines delivered by the younger actors felt lacking in direction and motivation and not seeming confident in the kind of tone and mood the lines were meant to convey. This is particularly noticeable with Butterfield’s performance as Jake. While he was obviously going for shy and withdrawn, his performance ended up just falling more into his character feeling like a something of a cypher, with his emotions from scene to scene feeling flat or just generally off. The end result is that much of the film’s dialogue just ends up feeling clunky and awkward.
Miss Peregrine’s other biggest stumbling block it’s overall pacing, which felt a bit all over the place. While the first act and the earlier parts of the film building up to Jake’s discovery of the home get an ample amount of screen time, much of the film’s middle and second act feels a bit rushed, which is indicative in the film’s major antagonist not arriving until about halfway through the movie. The rushed pacing of the second act ends up carrying over a fair bit into the film’s third act and finale, and ends up making the whole film feel very uneven in many places, and the film’s conclusion feels particularly shoehorned in. The uneven pacing combined with some of the more subdued and underwhelming performances makes for an overall lack of energy in the film’s pacing and narrative, and also results in a lot of scenes that seem important getting strangely glossed over in favor of scenes that seem less consequential.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has its share of problems, but its fun premise and creative world, combined with some strong anchoring performances and some creative and entertaining sequences that have a bevy of memorable moments ultimately elevates the film beyond its flaws. After so may misfires, Miss Peregrine’s feels like it has helped Burton regain his footing. While by no means as great as Burton’s earlier work, Miss Peregrines’ is nevertheless an enjoyable and fun little movie.