How far into “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” did director Tim Burton get before he realized he’d split up with the only woman who could play the title role?
Because it’s pretty obvious Eva Green is just a younger, duller interpretation of a role Helena Bonham Carter would have blown up until it popped in a cloud of weirdly witty confetti.
Not to lay the somewhat lifeless film wholly at the feet of the one-time “Bond Girl,” Green. No, she just has too much in common with the actor playing the film’s young hero/narrator, Asa “Ender’s Game” Butterfield. They’re both pretty place-holders, not giving you the spark of life, they just “look right.”
“Peculiar,” based on the popular novel by Ransom Riggs, is a little Harry Potter, a little “X-Men,” and a little dark for its intended 12-and-under audience. Which is a good thing. Kids are molly-coddled enough these days. Have you tried to sit through the inoffensive swill that PBS, Disney and Nickelodeon are slopping onto kiddie palates?
Butterfield is Jake, a kid whose adored grandfather (Terence Stamp) used to tell him stories about this amazing school he’d attended on an island off the coast of Wales. Jake always believed the stories. His teachers, classmates and Dad (Chris O’Dowd)? Not at all.
When grandpa mysteriously dies, he leaves Jake a cryptic message. “Go to the island. The bird will explain everything!”
Since Jake’s shrink (Allison Janney) doesn’t believe Jake’s version of his grandfather’s tales of odd classmates and their battles with monsters, and since the island of Cairnholm is a birder’s paradise (Dad is an ornithologist), Jake and his father take that trip. For “closure,” you understand.
And that’s where the kid stumbles into the school, bombed to pieces during World War II but still extant in a bubble in time, “a loop” where the kids and Miss Peregrine (Green) relive versions of the same day in 1943 over and over again, in perpetuity, as a means of hiding from “hollows,” empty-eyed villains led by Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) who command fierce, invisible monsters in a quest for “loops,” “peculiar children” and eyeballs.
There’s blood and death in this fantasy world, and peril. And coolly keeping it all in check is Miss Peregrine, an “ymbryne” who changes into — you guessed it, a falcon — and who keeps a pocket watch that allows her to stay on schedule and maintain the time loop.
The kids are an odd lot — a boy who has bees living in his mouth, a superstrong tiny girl, a fire-fingered redhead (Lauren McCrostie) who wears gloves to keep from accidentally torching everyone and everything. And then there’s the fair Emma, played with a winsome warmth by This Season’s English Rose, Ella Purnell.
Emma wears lead boots because she’s lighter than air, and her deep sea bubble blowing is one of the great movie effects of recent years. Her scenes sparkle, even though she shares most of them with the leaden Butterfield.
Burton fleshed out the cast with some wondrous talents — Oscar winner Judy Dench (as another ymbryune), Rupert Everett, Stamp (wonderfully de-aged for flashback scenes) and O’Dowd, whose whimsy and magic disappeared when he ditched his Irish accent for the Dad role. But only Jackson stands out in this lot, registering through the wild makeup, dental appliances and effects.
I was a little awestruck, here and there, at the world “Miss Peregrine” serves up. And I liked the dark and deadly sensibility Burton was reaching for.
But the cast is and the oh-so-conventional third act Battle Royale let a promising premise down. I dare say Burton realized that himself long before filming that finale — maybe back in 2014, when he and wild-haired Helena split up.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy action/violence and peril
Cast: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Terence Stamp, Rupert Everett
Credits:Directed by Tim Burton, script by Jane Goodman, based on the Ransom Riggs. A 20th Century Fox release.
Running time: 2:07