Director Tim Burton at first glance seems a perfect fit for "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," a mystical fantasy adventure about a group of extraordinary children born with bizarre abilities -- a sort of gothic X-Men. Burton's sensibilities may be a nice match for the material, but the resulting film ends up fitting squarely into the realm of the director's disappointing recent output (Burton hasn't made a truly great film since 2007's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street").
Based on the Young Adult novel by Ransom Riggs, the story follows Jake (Asa Butterfield), a Florida teenager who's dissatisfied with his ordinary, humdrum life. Inspired by the tales of adventure told to him as a child by his beloved grandfather, Abe (Terence Stamp), Jake longs to be an explorer, despite his father (played by Chris O'Dowd, sporting an American accent) constantly puncturing those dreams by telling him that there's nothing left to discover.
But when Abe is found murdered, Jake sets out in search of answers at the Welsh orphanage run by the mysterious Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green), where his grandfather spent his childhood. Traveling with his father, Jake does indeed manage to locate the orphanage, and learns that it offers sanctuary to Miss Peregrine's young wards, who've been ostracized by society for their unusual powers: invisibility, weightlessness, the ability to light fires with a single touch, and, eh, being filled with bees. It soon becomes clear that the same evil force that killed Abe is now after the children, and Jake is called upon to become a sort of protector to these so-called "peculiars." In the process, he discovers he's perhaps not so ordinary after all.
Despite its darkly whimsical themes, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" ends up being a bit of a slog to get through. Its story feels cobbled together from familiar parts, and bound together by a convoluted mythology (which includes time travel). Though the script is constantly explaining itself, the details often remain inscrutable. I'm sure it's all much easier to comprehend in novel form.
Eva Green has the ability to invigorate even the worst movies she's appeared in, and she manages to do so once again here, even though she's given frustratingly little to do. Meanwhile Samuel L. Jackson hams it up as the villainous Mr. Barron, who has a plot to wipe out the peculiars and feast on their eyeballs (it's complicated).
None of the children are given much personality outside of their particular abilities, so most don't have the opportunity to really register as characters. Still, there's some fun, creepy visuals (this is a Tim Burton film after all), including a fun, Ray Harryhausen-style climactic battle in which an army of skeletons goes up against the menacing monsters that carry out Mr. Barron's bidding.
With its message that magic and enchantment exist if you just know where to look for it, the film treads similar terrain as Burton's "Big Fish," another story that centered on tales passed down between generations. But for a film with such insistence on explaining the wonder of the world, any actual wonder is in distressingly short supply.