It might sound like a critical smiting to say that Tim Burton’s latest is probably destined to be one of his least-memorable efforts to date, but it still brings enough vivacity by way of its sharp style and charismatic performances that it just about manages to see out its bloated run-time in peace.
After the sudden death of his grandfather Abraham (Terrence Stamp), 16-year-old Jacob “Jake” Portman (Asa Butterfield) heads to Wales to learn more about Abraham’s secret life, where he meets Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who runs a home to take care of “peculiar” children with supernatural abilities. However, the sanctity of their way of life is put at risk by the evil Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), who routinely assaults these homes.
Despite the delightfully oddball premise, Burton actually tackles Ransom Riggs’ 2011 novel fairly safely for the most part, opting for rampant expository dialogues rather than grand visual showcases to sell the movie’s ideas, which largely contribute to a length that feels at least 20 minutes too long.
The real reason the movie works is Burton’s inimitable style, with the $110 million price tag mostly visible on the screen, while Eva Green and Samuel L. Jackson lead the charge with their deliciously entertaining performances. Green has her usual sexual intensity (albeit pared down significantly given the demographic), while Jackson hams his performance up for the cheap seats and the movie is all the better for it, even if he’s largely absent from the film’s first-half. Terrence Stamp is always welcome and does well in a small role, while you’d be forgiven for being unaware that, yes, Judi Dench has a glorified cameo as the operator of another home for peculiars.
Even with a host of young peculiars with distinct abilities, the core narrative is still extremely familiar and derivative of typical fantasy fare; there are generic-looking monsters called Hollows who routinely attack the home, and they’re probably the most visually ugly component of the entire movie.
It also doesn’t help that major conflict doesn’t arrive for about an hour, and even then the meat of it is largely saved for the bonkers third act. Butterfield, sadly, lacks the charisma in this part to sell it adequately, and ends up coming off rather bland, especially given how frequently he’s stood next to Green and Jackson, and the iconic Burton protagonists he’ll be endlessly compared to.
That may sound more like a burial of the film than a three-star review, but rest assured, when it’s charming and visually gorgeous, it feels like a quintessential Burton movie. That it dilutes its finer features with the agonisingly overlong run-time is a shame, and that the director signed off on a script that’s really just ticking the glossy fantasy checklist. It’s certainly decent, but just frustrating in its inability to reach its full potential.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is in cinemas now