I always wondered what it would be like if Tim Burton ever directed an X-Men movie. The master of weird takes on Ransom Riggs’ best selling young adult novel about a group of special powered children called peculiars. But this time, Burton doesn’t have the help of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter to help pick up the slack whenever the narrative falls flat.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children begins with a young boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield), who pretty much is your run of the mill lead character in a young adult film based off of a book. He is socially awkward and has a rocky relationship with his parents. His closest friend is his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) who has spent years telling him stories of his days in the 1940’s spent living with a group of unusual powered children known as peculiars. While Jake’s parents brush off the tales as myth and the product of post World War stress, Jake is determined to believe in his grandfather.
When Abe is mysteriously murdered, Jake journeys with his father (Chris O’Dowd) to the place where Miss Peregrine’s special home once was. There he discovers that all of the peculiar children are still alive and haven’t aged at all, thanks to a special time loop created by their guardian Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) that kept them safe in the midst of World War II. When Jake discovers that he too has special abilities, it is up to him to help defend the home and the other children from evil, cannibalistic peculiars led by a man named Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson).
The film certainly contains the lore of a vast and fairly interesting universe and also carries Tim Burton’s trademark eeriness. But as stories go, this one’s pretty dull. The movie takes far too long to include action or suspense and spends way too much time focusing on the lackluster relationship between Jake and his dumbfounded father. The characters, though creative, aren’t exactly the most useful or interesting either and meager child acting doesn’t help to make them memorable.
Samuel L. Jackson helps breathe life with a charismatic turn as the villain, but his character’s motives seem relatively dumb and poorly executed once you stop and think about them. Coupled with uninspiring special effects and a climax that is vastly underwhelming, this movie ends up feeling like a monotonous plot centered around a world that in itself is full of potential. Maybe the book is better, but the film is a bore.
FINAL GRADE: C-
Don’t judge a book by its cover. On the surface, Ender’s Game is yet another sci-fi/fantasy movie, based on a novel, involving a teen outcast who holds the fate of the world in their awkward little hands. Cue Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Beautiful Creatures, and any other teen novel references you can think of. But, beneath the commercial surface of Ender’s Game that is part Harry Potter and part Star Wars, is something else entirely. Beneath the summer blockbuster-like presentation is a unique message and deep commentary.
To be fair, I never read the 1985 book for which this film is based. So this will not be one of those reviews that gripes about the differences and how the film version missed a few marks. I’ll have plenty of time to do that when Catching Fire roles around. Instead, I judged the movie as most of the movie going audience will and should, as an unfamiliar.
The film is set in a distant future following a devastating war with an invading insect like species called Formics. Following the catastrophe, the world begins preparing for a second invasion by training the world’s brightest young minds from an early age to be perfect soldiers. Think Jedi from Star Wars but with less emotion. Ender Wiggin, played decently enough by Asa Butterfield (Hugo), is the best and brightest. Through his fragile eyes, we are exposed to this harsh reality where militant commanders use war games and boot camp to prepare children to be war weapons.
The supporting cast is solid. Harrison Ford and Viola Davis compliment each other well as military leaders specifically eying Ender with different ideals and methods on his development as a leader and soldier. But it is the commentary on war that makes this film stand out. It isn’t just the idea that children are stripped of their innocence to protect the “greater good”, but it is the thoughts and ideas that are being pumped into their heads. With Ender, we get it all, good and bad. He has a good heart, instilled largely by his older sister (played by Abigail Breslin). He is a good leader and a trustworthy friend. He also beats bullies to a pulp to win “not just this fight, but the next”. He sacrifices ships to destroy worlds. He negotiates with lesser minds to manipulate his own status. And in the end, when he has done what he has been taught, only then does he question the merits of his actions.
A film like this raises so many questions. The source material was written 30 years ago and it’s commentary on the merits of war are still relevant today. Yes, the necessary cool special effects and laughs are sprinkled in throughout, but if you aren’t leaving the theater wondering about the ruthlessness of war and whether or not this mentality is necessary to “protect the greater good” … then you might’ve missed the point.
FINAL GRADE: A-