These days Tim Burton seems to favor aesthetics over storytelling.
Loosely based on the first two books in Ransom Riggs’ bestselling YA trilogy, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” starts off wonderfully. We are quickly introduced to Jake (Asa Butterfield) a young man who cares very deeply for his Grandfather (Terence Stamp), even though a strong sense of betrayal clouds his heart. As far back as Jake can remember, his grandfather told him incredible tales of his youth filled with adventure, monsters, and children with extraordinary abilities. There were even vintage photos to prove it! After sharing some of these in class, he was quickly educated on a harsh “reality.” Fanciful things like this don’t exist, and the man he admired most was a liar. It’s many years later before Jake begins to question the truth behind his grandfather’s stories. Finding his grandfather dying, eyeless in the woods behind his home, Jake sees a large, spindly beast retreating into the fog.
Jake’s wild account is chalked up to trauma, and he is soon seeing a psychologist. Jake is able to convince the psychologist that a trip with his father (Chris O’Dowd) to his grandfather’s childhood home could help with closure. Soon they are off to a tiny, gloomy, island town in Wales. Unfortunately, upon arrival, they learn the home was bombed in 1943. Exploring the ruins on his own one dark day, Jake begins to hear voices and catches glimpses of other children. Before long he unknowingly breaches their time loop and finds himself back in September 3rd, 1943.
Up until this point, the movie is very engaging. Burton is still a master of intermixing creepy and whimsy. One would think with the introduction of the charmingly arrogant and melodramatic Miss Alma LeFay Perigrine (Eva Green looking sharp as ever) the film would take off! There’s a perpetual time loop! Weird kids with weird (and rather pointless?) superpowers! Scary Villains! Instead, the plot comes almost screeching to a halt. In boring nearly mathematical precision the next 20 minutes are made up of 50% exposition, and 50% “secrets.” The formula goes thusly: Introduce character + Demonstrate ability + Show Jake’s reaction + Demonstrate child’s disposition + Have Jake ask a perfectly logical question + Character scowls and says one of the following “I cannot answer that”, “I’ve promised to never tell”, “In time you will understand all things.” Rinse and Repeated. It quickly becomes maddening! Even worse, when all is finally revealed, there seems to be no logical reason why he wasn’t told everything immediately. In fact, it likely would have saved lives!
After this point, the story goes off the deep end. Without divulging any spoilers, the monsters (called “Hollows”) are hunting for various time loops so they can eat the eyeballs from peculiar children. The ringleader of these monsters is known as “Barron,”(Samuel L. Jackson) a white-haired, white-eyed freak who never stops talking. Barron takes the “talking villain” cliche to all new heights (or is it depths?) Ironically, nothing he says has any merit. The plot further insults our patience with a conclusion that doesn’t make any sense at all. It involves the collapse of one time-loop and a race to another. One loop exists in 1943, the other in 2016, although we aren’t sure which time period the children are currently inhabiting. To traverse from one location to another, a shipwreck, complete with an untold number of skeletons, is raised from the sea, boilers fired up and piloted by a handful of children. Then, once in the 2016 loop, the children battle Barron and the remaining Hollows. This climatic battle consists of characters from either side apparently waiting around doing absolutely nothing until the camera is on them, all set to a wildly out of place, and incredibly cheap sounding techno soundtrack. (….and this is the moment Tim Burton chooses to make a rare on-screen cameo…) By the end of all this nonsense, we have no idea what time period various characters are actually in, nor do we care. In addition, depending on the time travel theory you personally subscribe to, Jake has likely created a paradox that should have ripped the fabric of the entire time-space continuum. If this wasn’t bad enough, we are subjected to an epilogue that is intended to be epic and romantic but instead leaves us with even more pointless questions. (“Wait. He had to travel to California to go back in time so he could get to another country and jump forward in time, so he could jump back again, and then somehow return to a loop he was at just 10 minutes earlier in the film?”)
Tim Burton is clearly still a very talented and creative director, but this film is an ungodly mess. What makes it even more distasteful is the vast amount of potential hinted at in the first act. Individual moments are inspired! The cast and acting are great! (It could be argued that Samuel Jackson is perfectly portraying a terribly written character) But as a whole, it’s 2 hours and 7 minutes of your life you’ll never get back. You’d be far better off reading the original book and checking out the wonderful “Art of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”