- Monday, Sep. 26, 2016
Fall has officially just started, but there's still one more superhero flick sneaking in just before all the summer heat vanishes completely. But if you want muscled torsos and capes, you'll be sadly disappointed.
After a steady stream this year of Batman, Superman, Captain America, X-Men and even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it's time now for a group of kids who float, are invisible, who spark fire, manipulate plants, control bees and give life to inanimate objects. Not really, X-Men exactly. Call them X-Tweens.
They're the unlikely young heroes and heroines of "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," the Tim Burton-directed 3-D film loosely based on the novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs. Sweet, with some mind-blowing visual effects, it's the perfect film for your young disaffected mutant friends.
Asa Butterfield (Martin Scorsese's "Hugo") plays a young adult who stumbles upon a secret refuge for supernaturally gifted youngsters hiding in a time loop in 1943. Our hero befriends the mysterious schoolmarm Miss Peregrine (a delicious Eva Green, channeling a sexy Mary Poppins by way of Helena Bonham Carter) and learns that the children are in danger from ever-growing malevolent forces.
Burton is a natural choice to direct: The material already has that gloomy, Victorian vibe, a stylized dreamlike quality, and a sort of Goth-punk look, which is catnip to the director of "Edward Scissorhands." He also famously adores misfits; here, the screen is filled with them.
No surprise the job of turning the book into a film was handed to Jane Goldman, who is familiar both with mutants and the 1940s, having been the screenwriter for "X-Men: First Class." A somewhat ponderous first half leads to a hard-charging second, filled with ingenious fight-scenes, glorious ocean liners and sublime underwater moments.
The film should come with a Harry Potter-like warning for those allergic to new whimsical vocabulary terms like "ymbrines," ''Hollows" and "hollowgasts." But go with it. Your head will be in pain soon enough trying to make sense of the increasingly elaborate rules of time-travel and body shifting.
The peculiar children of the film's title are certainly unique but you can find plenty of other films in the DNA of "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," particularly skeleton soldiers from "Jason and the Argonauts," the X-Men franchise for making freaks lovable, "Groundhog Day" and even the underappreciated Hayden Christensen film "Jumper," which also has time shifting at its core and the same sort of evil force in Samuel L. Jackson.
Hyper-stylized films like Burton's usually create stiff performances, but Terence Stamp is grounded as a knowing grandfather and Chris O'Dowd is perfectly oafish as a clueless dad. Other cameos are by Judi Dench, Allison Janney and Rupert Everett (blink and you miss them). Ella Purnell is lovely and understated as a love interest; she's buoyant, in more ways than one.
So stretch your definition of heroes to include, say, a cute little girl with razor-sharp teeth on the back of her head. "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" has all the making of a super franchise - the call of destiny, the making of heroes and the embrace of kinship. Plus, of course, coming to terms with your inner freak.
"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "intense sequences of fantasy violence and peril." Running time: 127 minutes. Three stars out of four.