**1/2 out of ****
I’m running out of patience for young adult fiction series being put on the big screen as tentative franchise launchers, especially when their titles are a mouthful and their formulas tend to be similar. In the case of Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, there is an equal amount of fantastic intrigue and NOT-THIS-AGAIN!
The story follows an American kid named Jake (Asa Butterfield), whose grandfather (Terence Stamp) has been mysteriously killed while leaving instructions to find a special school he used to attend near a seaside village in Wales. Believing that making this trip across the Atlantic might be good for the trauma of Jake losing someone so close, his father (Chris O’Dowd) accompanies him to find this school, which turns out to have been destroyed by German bombings in World War II.
As Jake begins to assume that his journey was in vain, he is met by a group of kids possessing unbelievable powers who transport him back to 1943 where the school still stands as a place similar to the X-Mansion… or Hogwarts… Basically, it’s another movie about a house where children with magical abilities are looked after without the ridicule of the normal world.
Familiar, I know, but this plot point is interesting:
The headmistress, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) conceals their existence by creating a time loop of a repeating twenty-four hour cycle, leading right up to a second shy of the bombing of the school. The “peculiars” within the loop live an ageless existence as old souls in young bodies, while nothing outside the repeating day has the ability to interfere with them -unless dangerous “peculiars” find the entrance to the loop.
The tiresome exposition of these kids and some inept attempts at whimsical charm drag the middle of the movie down quite a bit, but when the plot involving the leader (Samuel L. Jackson) of the evil “peculiars” is introduced, the story manages to start moving.
The movie is directed by Tim Burton - a cinematic stylist whose strengths and weaknesses are debatable, but it’s fair to say that he usually knows how to capture demonic characters in a memorable way. The actions of this film’s baddies are likely to make children squirm and cover their eyes for more reasons than to simply avert them.
Burton’s lack of skill when it comes to flourishing characters or a strong emotional center that is anything more than basic melodrama prevents this film from the chance of being truly investing.
British actor Asa Butterfield, who made a huge impression as an orphaned child in the wonderful Hugo -and went on to star in the underrated Ender’s Game, is strangely pitiful as this film’s emotional surrogate. His monotonous delivery and awkward American accent (which is matched by O’Dowd’s) hurts this movie a lot.
Terence Stamp as the grandfather shows his dependable screen presence, Samuel L. Jackson chews up the scenery, and Eva Green’s Miss Peregrine has all the zany intensity Burton could ask for.
The cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel and the absence of composer Danny Elfman, who in my opinion has been bled dry by Burton of any memorable fantasy music left in his being, make this movie a unique entry to this director’s filmography even if it doesn’t come close to his best films, like Beetlejuice, Ed Wood or Sweeney Todd.
I didn’t mind this film, but if there’s a sequel, I’ll be just as annoyed with unwanted seconds as I was with Shrek 2, or the endless amount of franchises that were launched because a big studio was more delighted that I saw its average movie than I was to have seen it.