If you imagine a cross between Harry Potter and the X-Men, as directed by Tim Burton, you will have a fair idea of what to expect from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The film is based on the first of a series of young adult novels. I went into the theater having only seen – and mostly forgotten – the trailer, with no idea of the particulars of the peculiars. I can recommend going in this ignorant, so you discover the strange world the film presents together with its young lead (Asa Butterfield).
As you would expect from a Tim Burton movie, the visuals are a treat. If the X-Men were filtered through an art-house sensibility, this is what it would look like. Burton seems most at ease setting the scene, creating a mood and showing wondrous things that don’t necessarily make any kind of sense. Where he stumbles is in the actual telling of the tale. There are Bad Guys who get built up to be a credible threat, despite a creepy-silly backstory. But once they turn up to clash with our heroes, it turns out they aren’t especially bright. Their Evil Plan is badly thought out and executed. There are multiple moments when Bad Guys could have killed a kid – as we are told they have done many times in the past – but they don’t do it, for no clear reason. The CGI shenanigans that ensue at the climax are entertaining to watch but devoid of tension. Ray Harryhausen would have been proud though. I have to admit I got a bit lost following some of the internal logic near the end. Either I missed something, or the movie doesn’t explain itself very well.
What you are left with is a good movie that could have been great. There are imaginative and cool moments that don’t quite add up to a satisfying whole. The characters are memorable, especially Eva Green as Ms. Peregrine. Samuel L. Jackson does his best hamming it up as the main Villain but the script isn’t kind to him and he turns into a bit of pantomime clown, not nearly as insidious and threatening as he should have been.
Speaking of Jackson, Burton really put his foot in his mouth when he was asked why Jackson is the only non-white actor in the film. For more detail look here. As comedian Julie Klausner stated on Twitter: “Tim Burton has an incredible diversity record. Actors in his films range from alabaster to porcelain”. And it does seem like there is no reason the children at the school could not have been a more diverse, international crowd. I am not sure if the source material is equally homogenous, but apparently nobody casting the film felt the need for diversity. Still, the young actors they did end up with can’t be faulted and they did a good job.
There is a set-up for a sequel, but let’s hope this entertaining group of misfits finds worthier adversaries and a more interesting intrigue next time around.