Saturday, October 15, 2016

Asa Butterfield's Insufficient Charisma and the Overlooked Implications of the Time Loop Prevented Me from Loving 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'

What if the X-Men aren’t trained to use their powers to “protect a world that fears and hates them” but are instead isolated from the world, keeping their existence a secret, by living inside a time loop, in which they can go through the same day over and over again (just like in Groundhog Day) for the rest of their lives as unaging immortals?  That’s the premise of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children in a nutshell.  This movie is about a boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield) who discovers a magical place wherein young “Peculiars”, individuals born with remarkable abilities, live under the protection of Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green), an Ymbryne (a Peculiar that can transform into a bird and manipulate time).

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is based on the book of the same name by Ransom Riggs.  I remember seeing a copy in a bookstore years ago, and I did find it intriguing after reading its back cover synopsis.  However, I wasn’t compelled to purchase it then, and am yet to read it.  But if the movie is a generally faithful adaptation of the book, I don’t think I’m missing out much by not having read it yet.
Initially, it felt like that it has a cool, intriguing fantasy premise.  But when I began to contemplate on it, I realized how dumb it actually is.  Making superpowered children live in a time loop… what would that have achieved?  Maybe there’s more to it than what the story has let on.  Maybe the children are going to be eventually allowed to leave the time loop, grow up, and move on with their lives.  But the movie failed to make that clear.

The entire set-up of reliving the same day over and over again, not growing old, doing the same routines forever seems more of a Hellish imprisonment than being in a fun, magical refuge.  That’s why Phil Connors, Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day tried killing himself to escape the maddening monotony and predictability of being in a time loop of the same day.  The kids should have gone insane.  Or if they had taken the route that Phil eventually took in Groundhog Day, they should have learned countless skills and have obtained sizable encyclopedic knowledge by the time Jake met them.  But that wasn’t the case in the movie.  Not only did they not grow old in appearance but it seems they also didn’t mature intellectually and emotionally.
The plot makes use of fun “time travel” mechanics, and it does sometimes hit the delightful sense of wonder that is inherent to the fantasy genre.  But it fails to sustain the fun and sense of wonder, for there are several notably weak, lazy, or stupid plot points that just took me out of the path of loving this movie.  The movie also has several badly edited parts, ruining any momentum to come into fruition.

But I think the biggest reason that prevented me from loving this movie is the lack of a likable, engrossing hero.  By that, I don’t mean the titular Miss Peregrine.  She’s easily one of the best things about this movie.  Eva Green is as attractive and magnetic as she has always been in every movie I’ve seen her since seeing her for the first time in Casino Royale.  In fact, the supporting cast of Peculiars are actually pretty interesting and adorable – the movie just didn’t explore them as much as I would have liked.  Anyway, the main character of the movie is Jack, played by Asa Butterfield.  The narrative centers on him significantly, and it suffers because he simply has minimal charisma, if any.  I liked Asa in Ender’s Game, and I’m not sure if the problem of bland characterization is his fault, or a result of a poorly-written character arc, or director Tim Burton failing to inspire dedicated acting.  Regardless of what reason, what I honestly felt after seeing him in this movie was that I became glad Tom Holland is the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man instead of him, who almost had the role.
That said, despite my seemingly downbeat assessment of this movie, it’s not my intention to convey that Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a bad movie.  It’s definitely not.  For all its flaws, I still had enjoyment from it.  It’s just that it could have been better.  If only the premise made more sense, the script cleverer, the editing smoother, and the lead character more engaging, I could have loved this movie.

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