I wish I could tell you Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a good movie. It’s Tim Burton, misfit auteur, essentially doing a vintage 1940s version of the X-Men. It looks gorgeous, has the odd exciting set piece and features actors we’ve liked in other things. The book on which it’s based, by Ransom Riggs, is enjoyable. Etc.
I wish I could tell you Miss Peregrine is good, except it isn’t. It’s not bad, either. It is, you might say, a movie that exists.
Asa Butterfield—so good in Hugo and Ender’s Game, here giving an uncharacteristically flat performance hampered by a woeful American accent—plays Jake, a Florida teen who grew up on his grandfather’s (Terence Stamp) tales of the British boarding school where he spent his idyllic childhood years. The school is a little slice of heaven, where it’s bright and sunny every day, and oh yeah, the students all have superpowers and the headmistress Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) can turn into a bird. The death of his grandfather sends Jake in search of the boarding school, hoping to find closure. Instead, he stumbles upon the school exactly as it was in his grandfather’s youth, thanks to the ability of its headmistress to create “time loops.” There are bad guys hunting these “Peculiars,” as they’re called. Jake has to help them. Yada yada.
(One of those “yadas”—the monsters in this movie are basically Slenderman, at least design-wise. Tall, elongated limbs, wears a suit, no eyes, face tentacles, hunts children. Can the entire Internet bring a copyright claim or…?)
There are parts of Miss Peregrine that work really well, because they’re weird and … well, old-school Burton-y. There’s one character who can bring inanimate objects to life as puppets — dolls, corpses, he doesn’t much care — and a fight he stages between two Frankentoys could be right out of Edward Scissorhands. There’s a skeleton fight in this movie. An honest-to-God skeleton fight. Every movie without a skeleton fight, as far as I’m concerned, is a blight upon the face of the earth, and yet Miss Peregrine is the only movie this year that has one. (I think. I haven’t seen Nine Lives.)
Eva Green, needless to say, is kookily brilliant as Miss Peregrine, who in the movie has substantially more edge than her book counterpart. Look, if you want to see Eva Green as a crazypants and slightly scary headmistress who goes all-in on the bird mannerisms and has
maybe definitely murdered people, I can’t guarantee she won’t do that in another, better movie at some point in the future, but I sure as shit know Miss Peregrine is the only chance you have to see it now. (If you want her as a fabulously dressed teacher at a boarding school, on the other hand…) Samuel L Jackson, as the delightfully villainous Barron, goes all-in on the scenery-chewing as well…
…which, together with Green’s performance and all Miss Peregrine’s other good bits, really just puts in stark contrast how blah the movie as a whole is. The sparks of brilliance make me a little sad, really, because they serve as a reminder that the once-great Tim Burton has been running on autopilot for years now. Creepy toys and outcast misfits, sure — but where’s he fun of Beetlejuice or the heart of Edward Scissorhands? Switch out Helena Bonham Carter for Eva Green, and you still have the same old “cast my pale, dark-haired British muse in a role that allows her to be intense and weird” thing.
And it works, because Green sells it, but my God, Tim Burton, what happened to you? You used to be a truly original, compelling filmmaker! Now you’re little more than a collection of tics, assembled in a way that’s not bad (Burton still surrounds himself with expert craftspeople, after all, among them costume designer Colleen Atwood and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel) so much as soulless. Quirkiness for the sake of quirkiness ain’t sufficient—go down that road, and you get Burton’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which took Roald Dahl’s eccentric candyman and dialed his creep level up to borderline pedo because ?!?!?!?!!.
Sorry. Still not over that one.
Miss Peregrine is a waste of a good Eva Green, is what it is.
And more movies need skeleton fights.