(Originally posted 5th October 2016)
Okay, buckle in kids, 'cause this is gonna get rough.
Hopes were tentatively high going into this film. The source material seemed to suit Burton well and the footage seen in trailers suggested a visually engaging action romp, albeit one apparently aimed at children. However, it was in fact not only a terrible film but it was one of the worst mainstream films I have ever seen (and that is not a statement I make lightly).
So let's try and deal with this piece by piece. Firstly, the story. I'm not familiar with the source material but I have to say that this felt like it would work better as a novel. There is a lot to be said for the power of the imagination and I think it covers a lot of cracks that really start to show when you try and actualise these things. The film is pitched at a tween audience and relies on the idea that they have no concept of relationships, love, physics, time, narrative structure, the history of fantasy adventure or really anything beyond the idea that it might be cool to be invisible.
The plot is so route one and cliched that I can sum it up in one facetious paraphrase: “Oh god, I'm such an angsty teen, nobody understands me and girls don't fancy me. I wish I could be whisked away to a magical land where my life has meaning and people respect me.”
You know when you were thirteen and you read Harry Potter and then you started writing that story about a kid who gets bullied but then finds out he's descended from ninjas and goes to secret ninja school and gets off with a girl ninja and then beats up the bullies? Yeah, that story was less derivative than this film.
The “peculiar” characters have no rhyme or reason and their mutations are either completely arbitrary or designed solely for how they can be used in a later fight sequence. There is no metaphor or deeper meaning behind any of it and this allows for no development (for a better example, take Rogue in X-Men, whose inability to touch people without harming them is an analogy for adolescent social anxiety). The main character, Jake, is about as bland a human as you can get (although that is the point) until he goes to magic land because of his twinkly-eyed magic granddad and finds out that he has exactly the special talent that everyone has been looking for.
I'm really struggling to write this review because my contempt for this film is so strong that it's annoying to me to break it down in a vain attempt to try and find something worth berating. This film is so bad, that by trying to justifiably analyse it, I'm already giving it greater validation than it deserves. It's like eating a shit sandwich and then describing the texture.
So let's get this over with. The plot doesn't make sense. It has no sense of direction, again because there is no greater point being aimed at. There isn't a reason that the creatures need to eat eyeballs, someone just thought that was a quirky thing to put in. There isn't a reason that the protectors turn into birds, it just makes for a cool visual. There isn't a reason for any of it, so it's just a stumbling mess that misses every opportunity to say anything of value. And there is potential for some philosophy here. We have a group of children and adolescents who have been stuck in a time loop of the same 24 hours for seventy years, but always conscious of their previous actions. What relationships must have been struck up and broken in that time? What betrayals? What emotional growth? What psychological torment to be stuck in the same day over and over, knowing you will never have the opportunity to actually live, and if that is the case, is life even worth living? Well, there is none of that stuff, so don't expect it. It's just a kid who can control bees or whatever because that's cool, right?
With an impressive effort, the film actually manages to get worse as it goes along, as all attempts to maintain any kind of logical reality or define any kind of rules of the story world are totally abandoned, to put in action a sequence of events that may very well have been the result of one of those writing exercises where you get three random phrases and have to build a story around them. In this case, those phrases would be 'Blackpool Tower', 'snowball fight', and 'the death knell of Tim Burton's career'.
So lets take a moment to talk about Tim Burton. We know he's a talented director; he has a body of work that can stand up next to any other. So what's going on here? This doesn't feel like a Tim Burton film; it feels like a film by a 19 year old who says that Tim Burton is their favourite director, even though they've only seen Beetlejuice and Big Fish. It doesn't feel like a film with thirty years of experience behind it. It feels like a studio hash job written by committee in an attempt to hit every stereotype that they think kids like without understanding the meaning behind any of it. And that is not what you expect from someone who has consistently been able to put their personality into studio driven projects. It's a sad low point of a career that has been spiralling downwards for some years now.
Before I give in completely; the cast. Eva Green actually manages to bring a bit of character into the titular Miss Peregrine, although it is not given any room to develop. She is kooky for kooky's sake, but gets away with it by putting in a solid performance (like Johnny Depp would). Samuel L. Jackson is the only one who looks like he's having any fun and the rest of the cast range from bland to awful, including the lead Asa Butterfield, who is mostly awful. But this doesn't feel like a cast that is lacking direction, it feels like a cast that is being badly directed; and that is perhaps more worrying.
If you're twelve years old, it's a bank holiday and it's raining, this might be watchable. Otherwise, avoid at all costs.
For a look at some more pleasant Tim Burton discussion, check out our episode here: