Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is the next big family-friend adventure fantasy film from the visionary director Tim Burton. Based on the best-selling novel by Ransom Riggs, it features an ensemble cast consisting of Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris O'Dowd, Allison Jannery, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp and Rupert Everett. With what many consider an artistic stump for Burton as of late - arguably since the release of Alice in Wonderland back in 2010 - is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children enough to enlighten the imaginative director's success in providing characteristically darker and off-beat material?
After a family tragedy, Jake Portman (Butterfield) follows clues left by his grandfather to an Island in Wales that houses 'Peculiars' - a group of people who possess special and unique abilities, hidden from a world that won't accept them. To stay safe, they are secured in a time loop on September 3rd 1943 by Miss Peregrine (Green), but Wights and Hallows begin entering time-loops to feed off the Peculiars and recover their human form. Each of the Peculiars have their own unique ability - from invisibility to shapeshifting, to turning objects to stone to floating on air - but how well is this realised, and more importantly, is the film any good?
Solid performances are given all-round, with Asa Butterfield continuing to demonstrate his talent, with the hope of some more substantial roles around the corner. Within the ensemble, there features some solid turns from the likes of the ever-incredible Judi Dench, Terence Stamp in an underused but sustaining role and Ella Purnell, who shows so much promise early on into her career, but the film truly belongs to Eva Green. Playing the titular Miss Peregrine, her quirkiness and eccentricities are rather enchanting - helping the film find its own individuality and peculiarity - and allowing it to stand out when its narrative tries to stick to well-troden tropes of the fantasy adventure genre. Green, while slightly underused for a portion of the film, commands a strong presence and gives the film an energy to play off that instills the film with an excitement whenever she is near. In fact, it is when the film suffers the most that she is missing, which says a lot about the impact she has in this film.
Thematically, the film delves into some big ideas about loneliness and bravery which, while typical of the 'chosen one' sub-genre, are undeniable well-considered and touching. All of this is emphasised by Burton's direction which, although seemingly derivative, taken from his 'greatest hits' album, is a perfect suit for the unusual world presented in the books. It's a solid translations to the big screen, with Burton realising a number of sequences with spectacular fashion and style, including the time-loop and underwater scenes. If anyone can understand and develop the whimsical world of Peculiar Children, Burton can and he does, supplying the escapism films like this strive to achieve. It's certainly fantastical in its tone and genre, but not fantastic all the time...
Peculiar Children's biggest downfall is its narrative, which is overcomplicated, overcooked and overstuffed. In an attempt to pack in as much as possible - narrative, imagery, set pieces and cast and characters - the film becomes too convoluted and resorts to applying only basic levels of development to its characters. The story is overstuffed to the point that resolving the entire thing leads to a messy third act that races to tie everything up, while leaving just enough open to justify a sequel or franchise. It feels like it adheres too similarly to templates of many other Young Adult adaptations of recent, but it's the twisted darkness that prevents it from feeling like an exact carbon copy. And while his legacy is enough to ignore this performance, Samuel L Jackson simply does not sell his role as the Barron convincingly, creating a foolishly annoying villain that adds very little to the story. It's a film that lacks an understanding of restriction and the knowledge that sometimes less is indeed more. These are flaws that could be easily rectified to create a more successful film, but that somehow makes the flaws all the more glaring and frustrating.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is an entertaining film only let down by an overcomplicated and overstuffed narrative. It is otherwise bolstered by impressive performances and visuals, with just a hint at some of the themes that could really prove Peculiar Children as the next big fantasy franchise. For all its flaws, enjoyment can still be found within Peculiar Children and while the premise's potential may not have been perfectly executed this time round, I wouldn't turn down a second opportunity to see the world created by both Riggs and Burton, especially if we get more of the same from Eva Green.
Summary: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children may be overcooked on the narrative front, but it otherwise excels because of Tim Burton's arresting visual direction and the solid performances, most notably from Eva Green in the titular role.
Highlight: The first introduction to the Peculiars is full with a lot of charm that I just wish was sustained for longer.