Marvel movies are notoriously not allowed to use the ‘m’ word and you’ll find it curiously absent from Miss Peregrine’s… even if it feels like an “X-Men” story co-written by J K Rowling and Roald Dahl.
When his grandfather dies in mysterious circumstances, Jake (Asa Butterfield) decides to visit the children’s home that featured in his grandfather’s bedtime stories. Arriving in Wales, Jake finds that the truth is more peculiar than he thought as he finds his way into a time loop rooted in 1943. Awaiting him there is Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and her children. But Jake is not the only one searching for the time loop.
Adapted from Ransom Riggs’ successful novel, the source material is a great match for director Tim Burton and he embraces it as an opportunity to shed his recent over-reliance on CGI environments and visual effects in favour of filming on location. Although the Victorian grotesquerie matches Burton’s usual style perfectly, the film is refreshingly bucolic and bright in place of his usual dark and gothic aesthetic. That’s not to say the film’s not without its own darkness sprinkled amongst the whimsy, personified in the slenderman-esque Hollows which hunt Peculiars and push the boundaries of 12A family friendly horror although Mrs Craggus was more squeamish about betentacled eyeball eating monsters than Mertmas was. The freak show elements of the children’s peculiarities are well realised and, during a Ray Harryhausen homaging finale, amusingly and cleverly utilised.
The grown-ups in the cast are clearly having a great time, especially Samuel L Jackson and Eva Green, whose Miss Peregrine is, like Tom Baker’s Doctor Who, frequently all eyes and teeth but the children – while all individually fine – lack any real chemistry. Speaking of “Doctor Who”, the story is crammed with enough wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey shenanigans to make Steven Moffat blush and it’s in the plot and script that the film doesn’t quite work as successfully as the visuals. It’s trying to fit too much in and as a result, the early scenes feel a little disjointed and uneven while the remainder of the film spends too little time exploring the intriguing world of the Peculiars in favour of the relative safety of super hero tropes.
All in all though, it’s an effective and kooky action adventure even if it does show off many of its best moments in the trailer. One of 2016’s better blockbuster offerings, it still would have been nice to spend more time exploring the source novel’s ideas and characters in a little more depth.