Every time I see a new Tim Burton film, I always feel like I have been taken somewhere fascinating, even if I wasn't entirely satisfied along the way. "Alice in Wonderland" and "Dark Shadows" were indeed deflated efforts, yet I never felt as if Burton had dropped me into their respective worlds without guiding me through them. It pains me to say it, but this is exactly what he does with "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," or as others have called it, "X-Men for Weirdos." The material, adapted from the novel by Ransom Riggs, plays well to Burton's darkly quirky sensibilities, but there are far too many moments where it feels like an imposter was in the director's chair. If you want peculiar, you won't find it here, except for just how wildly inconsistent the film is with itself.
I won't bother devoting a paragraph to the film's entire premise, because it would probably take more than that to lay it out completely without it sounding convoluted (which it totally is). Burton fans will know what they're in for. A lonely outsider stumbles into a strange place populated by even stranger characters; dark forces soon threaten them, leaving it to the outsider to play the hero.....you know how it goes. Here, that character is 16-year-old Jake (Asa Butterfield, who I will begrudgingly elaborate on soon), who after an oddly rushed tragedy involving his grandfather (Terence Stamp) discovers the place that gives the film its title; a safe haven for little ones too different to live in the normal world.
In an attempt to amplify the fantasy element, there's a bizarre time travel element added to the mix, which keeps the children from harm's way, but soon poses problems for them in the third act. This is where "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" gets particularly frustrating. While there is more than enough exposition offered to spell out the importance of what the characters refer to as "time loops," the whole plot device remains nearly incomprehensible. Even worse is Burton's complete failure to create any sense of urgency throughout, leaving viewers spinning their heads around looking for something to hold their attention to.
If anything, we're meant to latch onto Jake as he navigates this world, but this is impossible after realizing only a few minutes in that he is the most boring aspect of the entire film. Butterfield seems just as bored with his character as well, phoning in a performance that makes Hayden Christensen's work in the "Star Wars" prequels look Brando-esque. The children under Miss Peregrine's care are imaginatively realized, but they, with the exception of the aerokinetic Emma (Ella Purnell) quickly become nothing more than decoration behind Jake and the other leads. Eva Green is, unsurprisingly, the only real on-screen presence to be felt here, commanding the role of Miss Peregrine with an elegant strut in her step.
Burton does find small glimmers of inspiration and visual beauty amidst this dreary mess, calling back to the likes of Ray Harryhausen with two stop-motion sequences, as well as nods to Burton's own past work (the dinosaur-shaped bushes and suburban layout of "Edward Scissorhands" make a pleasant return). Though he hasn't lost his artistic eye, unlike those in the film who fall victim to the dark, eye-gobbling figures led by Mr. Barron (a sharp-toothed Samuel L. Jackson), Burton never allows us to fully embrace that which is laid out in front of us, keeping us at arm's length from the proceedings. Humor is attempted charm viewers into rooting for everyone on screen, but every single joke falls painfully flat. I actually wish Johnny Depp were in there somewhere to drop at least one good zinger to zap the film out of its awkward daze.