Doctor Strange

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stulhbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton

Director: Scott Derrickson

Writers: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill


2016 saw a continuation of the superhero trend that is dominating Hollywood right now with at least five major movies being released prior to Doctor Strange. In this kind of climate it’d be difficult for any one of these films to distinguish themselves from all the others. On one hand we did get Deadpool which won audiences over with its R-rated content and rule breaking but we also got X-Men: Apocalypse, a half-hearted, generic rehash of its previous instalments. Although Marvel is certainly guilty of following formulas that can get tiring at times, their films have mostly succeeded in this regard due to the different elements and genres they’ve been able to bring to their cinematic universe. Over the last couple of years for example they’ve made an espionage thriller in The Winter Soldier, a space opera in Guardians of the Galaxy and a heist movie in Ant-Man. In keeping with this tradition Doctor Strange depicts a genre unlike any other seen in the Marvel franchise: the mind-trip movie.

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a highly successful and arrogant surgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. His former girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), also a surgeon, tries to help him move on but Strange is determined to restore his hands through risky and experimental procedures. His obsession soon leads him to Kamar-Taj in Nepal where he is taken in by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a Celtic sorceress. There Strange discovers the existence of astral planes and other dimensions and is taught the teachings of the mystic arts. However Strange is quickly forced into action when a rogue sorcerer called Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) threatens the Sanctums that the Ancient One’s order is sworn to protect. With the help of friend and mentor Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Strange must master his abilities and defeat Kaecilius before he can complete a ritual that threatens their very existence.

When viewing Doctor Strange as a mind-trip action movie, the most obvious comparison to be drawn is Inception. Like the Nolan movie, Doctor Strange contains many action set pieces that bend and distort reality in spectacular ways. When the sorcerers enter the Sanctum, all bets are off as they freely defy the laws of nature in their mystic battles. Gravity becomes subjective, perception is skewed and time is not absolute. The film also undertakes a slightly more philosophical approach than the typical Marvel movie as Strange must learn to master his own failings before he can master the art of sorcery. He never does lose his arrogance, on the contrary he learns that arrogance is part of what makes him a great sorcerer, but rather learns to live and fight for a cause that is greater than himself. This arc is not unlike that of Tony Stark in the earlier Marvel films, but Strange has enough of its own identity both in its protagonist and as a film that it doesn’t feel like a simple retread.

Benedict Cumberbatch (in keeping with the law which holds that he must be in everything) plays the newest hero in the MCU canon proficiently with both humour and gravitas. As he portrays Strange in his narcissism, cockiness and resoluteness, it is near impossible to imagine any other actor in the role. The whitewashing that took place with the Ancient One is rather glaring (especially in a movie about a white man adopting and mastering an Eastern discipline and surpassing all of his ethnically variant peers in the process) but to Swinton’s credit nobody can play otherworldly quite like her. Although this film continues the Marvel tradition of underwriting its generic non-Loki antagonists, I found Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius to be one of the least generic ones to date. I cannot for the life of me remember what his motivation was but I do remember him being intimidating and clashing well with Strange in their scenes together. There’s also quite a fun character to be found in Strange’s cloak, very much in the vein of the magic carpet in Aladdin.

I can understand that someone with superhero fatigue might find the whole ‘origin story’ aspect of this film tiring, but for me Doctor Strange has a lot going for it. I like that the climax for instance did not boil down to a punching and kicking contest. Strange’s triumph is instead a result of his ingenuity and occurs in quite a clever and creative way. I also like Strange as a character, I liked the new dimension that this film added to the Marvel universe and, above all, I enjoyed the movie’s superb, psychedelic visuals (which pay off especially well when seen in 3D). Those who watch this film looking for weaknesses are certainly going to find them. The whitewashing is evident, McAdams’ role is little more than a token love interest and the typical Marvel formulas and tie-ins can be obtrusive. Still there is a lot to enjoy and a lot that is different from all the other blockbusters we’ve seen in recent years. Doctor Strange is a feast for the eyes that contains all the thrills and humour that Marvel is known for and was a relief to watch after a summer of disappointing blockbusters.

★★★★

I, Daniel Blake

Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Dylan McKiernan, Briana Shann

Director: Ken Loach

Writer: Paul Laverty


Five decades after first earning prestige, acclaim and controversy with such works as Cathy Come Home and Kes, Ken Loach shows in I, Daniel Blake that he is as resolute as ever in underlining the social injustices endemic in contemporary Britain. The injustice he has sought to portray here is that of the benefits system in the UK, a system that Loach feels has let down the people who need it the most due to its rigidly bureaucratic structure and for what he has described as “conscious cruelty”. Whether you agree with his politics or not, Loach has demonstrated, perhaps better than any other director in Britain, film’s power as a social and political vehicle. Film has the power to inspire empathy in audiences that transcends time, space and circumstance. Having grown up in a middle-class household, I haven’t got the slightest idea what it is like to struggle through life with the prospects of starvation, squalor and destitution looming over me. That is why films like I, Daniel Blake are so important. Even if you don’t believe that this story is indicative of a larger problem throughout the country, I challenge anyone to leave this film feeling unmoved.

When we first meet Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), a 59-year-old joiner in Newcastle, he is recovering from a major heart attack that has rendered him unable to work. His application for the Employment and Support Allowance is however denied when he fails to score the sufficient amount of points required in his assessment, an assessment carried out by a faceless “healthcare professional” who has not even spoken to Daniel’s doctor. While Daniel awaits his appeal, his only option is to apply for a Jobseekers Allowance. A condition of receiving this allowance is that Daniel must actively seek work (even though he is physically unfit to accept any job that he applies for). While visiting the job centre, he meets Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires), a single mother who has just moved out of a homeless persons’ hostel in London with her children Dylan (Dylan McKiernan) and Daisy (Briana Shann). After she gets sanctioned for turning up late to her appointment, leaving her unable to provide enough food and heat for her family, Daniel offers her his help as they both struggle to overcome the poverty that they face.

In his depiction of what is a deathly serious and divisive issue in Britain, Loach has created a film of profound anger, humour and humanity. When one bears witness to the robotic indifference Daniel receives, the officious hoops that he is forced to jump through, and the despairing futility of his efforts, it isn’t hard to imagine the desperation and frustration he must be feeling. When Daniel, a man who hasn’t the faintest idea how a computer works, finds that his application must be submitted electronically, the job centre’s managers are unsympathetic to his helplessness. When he spends over an hour on the phone waiting for his call to be put through so that he might ask for his appeal, he is told that no action can take place until he receives a letter confirming a decision that has already been made. When he spends his week walking from lot to lot submitting prospective CVs for jobs that he cannot accept, he is refused the allowance due to inadequate proof of his efforts. For all of Daniel’s labours, the representatives he must deal with might as well be David Walliams stoically declaring “computer says no”.

And yet Daniel’s case never feels wholly despondent. Dave Johns plays Daniel with a comic touch, responding to his ludicrous dilemma with the sense of drollness that it deserves. He also shows himself to be resilient, as well as kind and caring, in his friendship with Katie and her children as he offers to help her around the house. Katie, played affectively by Squires, finds herself in a desperately pitiful situation, more so than Daniel because her children are suffering as well, and is not strong enough to deal with it alone. In the absence of work the best she can do is let herself starve so that her children can eat. Her despair is driven home in one particularly heartbreaking scene set in a food bank. As the benefits system incessantly allows these two characters to suffer, Daniel and Katie find that the best thing they can do is support and provide hope for each other as they carry on. The sense of community and compassion that they share is what makes this film as moving as it is.

Loach won his second Palme d’Or for this film and, with all the passion and tenacity he brings to the story, it isn’t hard to see why. The story that he tells is of a man who gets beaten down and trodden on by a cold, pitiless system that views him not as a man but as a statistic. Loach, who has dedicated his entire career towards relentlessly and uncompromisingly standing up for the underdog, is damning in his condemnation of this system and its refusal to help the hundreds of thousands of Daniel Blakes and Katie Morgans all over the country. The social realist approach he takes allows the film avoid the trappings of being preachy or condescending in delivering its message. The film is utterly authentic in its natural sincerity and kitchen sink realism and stands amongst the finest work that Loach has produced. Watching I, Daniel Blake was one of the most moving cinematic experiences I had this year and, with the world going the way it is, films like this are now more important than ever.

★★★★★

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Austin Hebert, Robert Catrini, Robert Knepper

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz


When the first Jack Reacher came out I remember there being some controversy over the choice to cast the 5’7” Tom Cruise as the tall, physically dominating protagonist from the Lee Child novel. As someone who had never read these books, I just went in expecting a Tom Cruise movie. By casting Cruise, the studio has made a clear decision that deems Jack Reacher’s character as irrelevant; you will instead be watching Tom Cruise play Tom Cruise. Still, whether you love his movies or hate them, one cannot deny the appeal he has. One of the things I like about Cruise is that no matter what movie he’s in, good or bad, he always gives 100%. In a career spanning almost four decades, not once has this man ever phoned it in. His energy, enthusiasm and charisma are still as palpable today as they were in the 80s and he shows no sign of slowing down. Thus, when a series like Jack Reacher comes along, a series that is so obviously nothing more than a star vehicle, I think it’s worth remembering that Cruise is a star for a reason. He was pretty much born for it.

Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is back as he heads over to his military headquarters to meet with a new acquaintance, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). Upon arriving he learns from Colonel Sam Morgan (Holt McCallany) that Turner is being detained under the charge of espionage. At this same time Reacher also learns that a paternity suit has been filed against him, claiming he is the father of the 15-year-old Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh). Believing that Turner is being framed, Reacher infiltrates the prison where she’s being held and breaks her free. The two must go on the run and are forced to bring Samantha along when her connection to her supposed father places her in danger. Together the three of them must evade the military forces pursuing them and uncover the truth behind this conspiracy so that they may clear their names.

As is often the case with these films, the story is almost immaterial. No one really cares about the government conspiracy, it’s just a backdrop that allows Tom Cruise and Cobie Smulders to punch a few faces and run around for a bit. The only thing that really matters is that they have a teenage girl running along with them, creating a family dynamic between three characters who don’t know how to act like a family. This is the film’s strongest point, and its success is creditable more to the actors than it is to the writing. Cruise, for instance, conveys more deeply than the dialogue ever could this idea that Reacher cannot live a normal life. He beats up bad guys because it’s the only thing he’s good at and he’s constantly on the run because he has no responsibilities tying him down or holding him back. He doesn’t know the first thing about being in a relationship with either a girlfriend or a daughter. Morgan is similarly single-minded in her military professionalism whereas Samantha comes from a broken home. Their attempt to create a surrogate family with each other could have been fascinating in the hands of stronger writing and direction. Here, it offers some entertaining moments between the punching and kicking.

The action is pretty standard for the most part. It is interesting to see Tom Cruise share some of these scenes with Cobie Smulders, since he tends to be solely front and centre in these films, and that discord is brought into play. While they are hiding in New Orleans, Reacher hopes that he can assign Turner the role of ‘mother’, which would allow him to go out alone to do the ‘real’ work. Turner of course both resents and rejects that assignment because babysitting a teenager is just about the most useless thing she could possibly do in this situation. She needs to be in the field just like Reacher and he sure as hell isn’t going to stop her. What I would give for a screenplay worthy of this conflict. Yarosh is serviceable as the young, rebellious girl who may or may not be Reacher’s daughter, but sometimes it feels like her character only exists to create problems for the grown-ups to solve.

As far as Tom Cruise action movies go, Never Go Back is about what you’d expect. Smulders is a great foil to Cruise and the family dynamic is quite interesting, but these qualities are let down by the sub-par writing and generic direction they were given. A campy villain within the vein of Werner Herzog would also have been welcome (this principle applies to action films in general). There are some good action set pieces, but nothing like the extravagant, stylised scenes you’d see in a Mission: Impossible film. That’s fine if you’re looking for something more down to earth, but those movies are entertaining for a reason. The interplay between Reacher, Turner and Samantha could have allowed for a more fulfilling experience if it had been allowed to attain the dramatic heights within reach. Instead the movie offers a few entertaining scenes with a couple of good jokes thrown in. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is by no means a failure but it could have and should have strived to be better.

★★★

Inferno

Cast: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Irrfan Khan, Ben Foster, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Omar Sy

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: David Koepp


He’s at it again. For the third time Robert Langdon is drawn into a crisis with global ramifications and only by solving a trail of riddles can he save the day. SSDD. That the Dan Brown thrillers have an allure to them is beyond doubt. I was so drawn in by the historical mysteries and artistic secrets featured in his stories as a teenager that I didn’t really notice that he wasn’t a particularly good writer. There is just something so utterly fascinating about discovering that an ancient, secretive organisation like the Opus Dei or the Illuminati could have these great secrets hidden in all of these iconic buildings and works of art. Even when I began to catch on to the absurd and convoluted nature of these stories, the Ron Howard films still did a pretty decent job of making those absurdities and convolutions entertaining. With Inferno though (based on the novel that I didn’t bother to read) it got tiring. I wasn’t thrilled or mystified this time; I was bored and confused.

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the Harvard professor of Symbology, wakes up in a hospital room with apocalyptic visions and no memory of the last few days. He discovers that the hospital is in Florence and Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) reveals that he is suffering from amnesia due to a bullet wound in the head. When the assassin Vayentha (Ana Ularu) enters guns blazing, the pair make their escape and try to work out what is happening. Among Langdon’s belongings is a small pointer that projects the image of Botticelli’s ‘Map of Hell’, based on Dante’s Inferno. This, they discover, is a clue left by Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster), a billionaire geneticist who believes the Earth’s growing population spells humanity’s doom. Before committing suicide, Zobrist created a lethal virus called Inferno that could decimate the world’s population. Langon and Brooks decide that they must follow Zobrist’s trail and prevent the virus from being released. On their trail is Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy), an agent of the World Health Organisation, Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan), the head of an organisation that is helping Zobrist with his mission, and Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the head of WHO and an old flame of Langdon’s.

That was a convoluted summary to write. The film is just so relentless with the amount of information it dumps and the number of overlapping stories involved. Recounting the plot is a little like listening to a History professor as he drones on and on through an inexorable sequence of “and then… and then… and then…” No “but…” or “therefore…”, just “and then…” There is seldom a moment where a character isn’t running or explaining something or explaining something while running. This is true of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons as well, but those movies at least had a sense of pacing and suspense about them. Also the second movie had a skydiving Pope, so there’s that. Here everything happens at such dizzying speed that nothing is allowed time to sink in. Before your mind has the time to work out what the Horses of Saint Mark have to do with anything, a big plot twist is revealed and then the characters are on their way to Istanbul. Who knew that a confused, anxious, amnesiac Langdon with a great big pain in his head could be such an appropriate surrogate for the audience?

Hanks (minus the mullet this time) does what he does with the usual amount of wit and charm. As Langdon he is simultaneously the smartest man in the room and the approachable everyman, a balance he pulls off like no one else can. Jones is the movie’s highlight though as she plays a plucky foil to Hanks while also matching him on an intellectual level. Her character follows a wholly ridiculous arc in this film but boy does she sell it. Foster, an actor who is usually excellent at disappearing into his roles, isn’t given enough screen-time or character to put his talents to use. All he does is spout ominous lines about the disease of humanity and the end times, the sort of lines that sound great in a trailer. Irrfan Khan however might be the only member of the cast who actually understands what a ridiculous movie he’s in. Playing the prim and proper leader of a secretive organisation who may or may not be the bad guy, he’s having the time of his life.

The film is dense and insane, but then so are the two previous films. This time however it’s just too much. The complicated puzzles, the leaps in logic, the haphazard twists and turns along the way; to quote a clueless emperor in his appraisal of a genius’ masterpiece, “there are simply too many notes”. Worst of all is the climax, an entirely incoherent mess both intellectually and visually. In the struggle that ensued I resigned myself to indifference, as I had no discernable way of telling who was who or who was winning. The production is pretty great, allowing us to see some neat sights including Il Duomo, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Hagia Sophia, so audiences looking to see more of Langdon’s trademark explorations of artworks and buildings will get their fill. What they won’t get is the gripping suspense of The Da Vinci Code or the enjoyable outlandishness of Angels & Demons. What they’ll get instead is two hours of excessive running and explanation, and they will exit the film knowing less than when they entered.

★★

The Girl on the Train

Cast: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Édgar Ramírez, Lisa Kudrow

Director: Tate Taylor

Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson


This is a film that has garnered a lot of comparisons with Gone Girl, leading many to dismiss The Girl on the Train as the lesser of the two. Both of these movies are suburban thrillers detailing the dark or even sinister secrets that lurk beneath the everyday facades these characters wear. Both mysteries are focused on the sudden disappearance of a beautiful, blonde suburban housewife. Both films play around with time and perspective. Both films share a similar tone and visual style. Both stories are based on bestsellers written by women. Maybe this film is intentionally trying to replicate what Fincher and Flynn did with their film to attain that same level of acclaim, or maybe it’s just an unfortunate coincidence that Gone Girl happened to be made two years earlier. Although I do think this film possesses positive qualities that make for a good movie, they were sadly not enough to make me forget that it’s been done before and it’s been done better.

Every day Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) commutes to the city on a route that takes her directly past the neighbourhood where she used to live. There she can see her old house where her ex-husband Tom Watson (Justin Theroux) lives with his mistress-turned-wife Anna Boyd (Rebecca Ferguson) and their new-born daughter. During her trips Rachel becomes increasingly fascinated with the house three doors up where the alluring Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) lives with her husband Scott (Luke Evans). Seeing them together in the briefest of glimpses, Rachel fantasies about what a perfect marriage they must have while she drowns her own sorrows in the bottle. This fantasy is then shattered when Rachel spots Megan kissing another man on her balcony. Enraged and inebriated, she resolves to confront Megan before blacking out and awakening in her bedroom with an injured head. When it is revealed that Megan has since gone missing and has been presumed dead, Rachel’s erratic behaviour makes her the top suspect in Detective Riley’s (Allison Janney) investigation.

In comparing these two films I found myself recalling a forgettable sci-fi movie I once saw called The Thirteenth Floor, a film about a virtual reality. It had a fascinating concept and impressive (for the time) visuals but was ultimately a victim of its clumsy writing and inexpert direction. Its biggest weakness though was that it happened to come out just a couple of months after The Matrix. In a nutshell, that’s kind of how I feel about this film. The Girl on the Train could be intriguing at times and has a strong leading lady in Blunt, but the issues it suffers from keep it far from attaining greatness. When compared to Gone Girl, this film is dead in the water. The film’s underlying mystery is a whodunit (in contrast to Gone Girl which is more of a howdunit or whydunit) with a ‘who’ that is pretty easy to guess. The real story is of three women and the fears and flaws they suffer that drive the action that occurs, but these women aren’t as complex or as compelling as the film clearly wants them to be. The direction Taylor brings is pretty standard and never surprises, not even in the surprise twist when we learn that things are not the way we’ve been led to believe. Thus the suspense, the captivation and the artistry that made Gone Girl such a great watch is either lacking or absent as far as this film is concerned.

Blunt puts everything she has into her performance and it definitely counts for a lot. She plays a wretched, severely alcoholic woman punishing herself day after day for the shambles that was her marriage. She is a miserably lonely creature, staring longingly through the window towards this seemingly perfect life that has been lost and denied to her. She recalls memories of how her marriage to Tom was wrecked by her excessive drinking and his infidelity and jumps back and forth between inconsolable despair and antagonistic rage. Blunt is able to be both subtle and outrageous when the script calls for it and single-handedly makes this film. If only the other two women were half as compelling. One is a bored housewife looking for an escape. The other is a bored housewife looking for passion. The two women, along with their husbands, are so nondescript as characters that I could only remember who was who through face recognition alone.

Still, when it comes right down to it, I can’t say that The Girl on the Train was a bad film. It has a complicated and engaging character at its helm played superbly by a marvellous actress. While I wasn’t particularly interested in the story or its mystery, I was invested to the extent that I wanted to see Rachel pick herself up, get her act together, and turn out all right. If the film had the gripping sense of pace, the captivatingly ambiguous tone or the wonderfully astute camerawork of Gone Girl, then we might have had the suspenseful suburban thriller that the writer and director were clearly going for. In a universe where Gone Girl didn’t exist perhaps the issues I had with The Girl on the Train would not have been so glaring. The reality though is that no movie exists in a vacuum. The comparison between these two films is as appropriate as it is inevitable and the difference in quality is clear. Everything this film does badly, the other does well. Everything this film does well, the other does better.

★★★

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Cast: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney, Rupert Everett, Terence Stamp, Ella Purnell, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson

Director: Tim Burton

Writer: Jane Goldman


In a perfect world any film that combines the concepts of X-Men and Groundhog Day with Tim Burton’s style ought to be a guaranteed recipe for success. Sadly our world is far from perfect and so is this film. Burton, a singular visual director who practically created his own genre as he produced hit after hit in the 80s and 90s, has maintained an uneven career for the better part of two decades now. For every Big Fish and Sweeney Todd, he has made a Planet of the Apes and Alice in Wonderland. Nowadays the tropes that once made him an innovator and a visionary, from the gothic sets and costumes to the creepy and inventive visuals to the weird and eccentric characters, tend to lean more towards cliché and self-parody. Style over substance isn’t always a bad thing when the style is in itself something to be admired, but it is deadly once that style becomes tiring or is used half-heartedly.

Jake Portman first heard about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children from his grandfather Abe (Terrence Stamp) in his bedtime stories. The house, so Abe says, is where he grew up along with a collection of other children who possess extraordinary abilities. After his grandfather dies a gruesome death Jake, on the advice of his therapist Dr. Golan (Allison Janney) sets off for the Welsh island with his father Franklin (Chris O’Dowd) to visit the house. At first all he finds is the estate’s remains after it was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1943. Later he is found by some of the Peculiar Children who then lead him into a cave that transports them back in time to that very year. Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), it turns out, is able to keep her house and the children hidden from outsiders by storing them in a time loop. With her are the Peculiar Children, including Emma Bloom (Ella Purnell), a girl with the ability to fly, and Enoch O’Connor (Finlay MacMillan), a necromancer. Miss Peregrine’s Home however is threatened by strange creatures called Hollows, led by the sinister shapeshifter Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson), and Jake is the only one who can help them.

The story hits the usual notes you might expect from a Burton movie. It focuses on a social outcast who finds meaning and belonging in a weird and wonderful world that differs from our own. Burton however does not bring the conviction or the commitment to this story that is so readily apparent in his earlier work. His style is evident in the film’s subdued colour palette and eerie designs, but the world he creates feels so spiritless and indifferent. There is no enthusiasm in the pursuit and discovery of the strange, no sensation to the ethereal nature of this universe, no wonder in the meeting of the innocent with the macabre. The man who used to speak volumes in every frame and who could always find charm and beauty in the strange and sinister now resorts to gratuitous exposition and depicts the peculiar for little more than peculiarity’s sake. Apart from the few brief glimpses we are allowed into Burton’s twisted and creative soul, the film is without life and originality.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the protagonist Jake, an introverted teenager with the personality of a cardboard box. In spite of Butterfield’s best efforts (putting aside his attempt at an American accent), Jake is an utterly forgettable and wooden character who cannot conjure a single emotion for love, wonder or pain. The shoe-horned romance he shares with Emma is so contrived and stale that I almost thought I was watching a gender-swapped rendition of Twilight. Accompanying him is a collection of superficially odd characters whose personalities are defined by their abilities and little else. Of all the actors whose talents went to dismal waste in this film (a list that includes Terence Stamp, Allison Janney, Judi Dench and Kim Dickens), only two brought any life to their performances. One is Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, an actress whose ability to chew scenery rivals that of Helena Bonham Carter. The other is Samuel L. Jackson, an actor who lives for the absurd and excessive.

The movie’s one other redeeming feature is its climax which is as enjoyably over the top as it is ludicrously nonsensical. As I approached the third act I found that I wasn’t in the least bit invested in the showdown that was to take place between the bland, characterless goodies and the painfully incompetent baddies. That attitude remains unchanged, but at least I got to watch a battle between a horde of invisible eye-gouging monsters and a legion of stop-motion Jason and the Argonauts skeletons in the middle of a seaside carnival. It comes nowhere close to saving the film, but I’ll take what I can get. All things considered, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not the worst work Burton has produced recently but it is a testament to how far he has fallen since the days of Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood. While I can hardly say that the climatic battle is reason enough to watch this film, it is at the very least an assurance that some of the magic is still there. I hope to see more of it in his next project.

★★