Not-So-Fantastic Beasts and Who Cares?
The new Harry Potter movie is here! Well, kinda. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a spin-off prequel, set in the same world as the Harry Potter universe, but 70 years earlier. I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series, so I was excited to see this one. I was happy to see the return of David Yates, the director of the last four (excellent) Potter films. JK Rowling wrote the script. Everything seemed like it would come together. If you can tell from this blog’s title, however, I didn’t really like it.
I really wanted to enjoy Fantastic Beasts. I didn’t, but it’s not a complete wash. The movie does have several positive things going for it. I’ll list a few of my favorites, here.
- The visuals. As with the other movies set in the Potter universe (Potterverse?), both the art direction and the visual effects are top notch. I enjoyed seeing the various creature designs, and most (if not all) of them were integrated into the real world skillfully and artistically. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the attention to the detail of the sets and costumes. The movie takes place in New York City in the 1920s, and it feels like it. Bravo.
- New ideas. Fantastic Beasts is in the same universe as Harry Potter, but it stands on its own. As a viewer, you could go into this without having seen a single Harry Potter movie and still be able to follow what’s going on. (This was largely accomplished by the non-magical character of Jacob Kowalski, the audience stand-in.) Since the movie is set in a different time and place, it didn’t have to rely on what came before. This was a wise decision by Rowling. I also enjoyed the more adult aspects of the world of magic that were introduced, like the elf speakeasy and “giggle water.”
- Some of the humor. Speaking of “giggle water,” there’s a scene involving the potion and Jacob Kowalski that made me laugh aloud. Really, every scene involving Kowalski was pretty funny, and he stole the show. Most of the humor worked, when he was involved, but much of the humor involving Eddie Redmayne just fell flat.
- Some of the acting. The acting was a mixed bag, so I’ll say I loved the actors who played Queenie and Kowalski. They were side characters, though. The leads, to me, gave uneven performances. Eddie Redmayne was good when he was nervous and brooding, but his performance fell flat when he tried to be funny or heroic.
Despite the handful of pros, this movie is a mess. Even some of my “pros” have cons within them.
- The story. Eighty percent of the story is Redmayne tracking down his escaped creatures. Snore! It’s a scavenger hunt on screen. It’s possible to do a scavenger hunt movie well, like the first National Treasure movie. The difference is that the viewer knew the stakes of failure in that movie, but didn’t in Fantastic Beasts. The wizards wanted him to succeed, and the muggles/no-mag people couldn’t stop him, so any tension that could have been created was deflated. There was a side plot about an anti-magic cult and another about a dark wizard and his non-magical protege. Either one of these would have made a more interesting movie, in my opinion.
- Wasted characters. The leader of the anti-magic cult should have had a better arc. She was way more interesting than the giant rhino in heat that got 15 minutes of screen time for some reason. Jon Voight’s version of William Randolph Hearst could have been fleshed out into something interesting, too. Sadly, we didn’t get that. Maybe in the sequel.
- The filler. God, so much filler! The movie is two and a half hours long but it feels like four. There are so many scenes that should have been cut, I don’t even know where to begin. But then again, I want basically all the creature hunting scenes cut out completely. Redmayne’s suitcase menagerie scene went on far too long. If the anti-magic cult wasn’t going to do anything, cut it out! Even the final battle felt long and tedious.
- The villain. Speaking of the final battle, the villain in this movie was not handled well at all. Colin Farrell did fine with the material he was given, but what he was given wasn’t great. We didn’t really ever know his motivation, and he’s only in the movie for about fifteen minutes. What was his plan? Why? I didn’t want another Voldemort, but this guy was so vanilla it hurt. I can’t even remember his name, and I can’t be bothered to look it up.
- The Scooby-Doo ending. SPOILER, obviously. Skip this bullet point if you haven’t seen the movie. The movie ends with a literal Scooby-Doo ending, where the good guys unmask the evil wizard who turns out to be Johnny Depp. Look, I love Johnny Depp. I’ve even made a whole caricature series of thirty of his film roles. But his appearance in this movie was pointless, stupid, and funny in the wrong way.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is not a bad movie, but it’s not very good, either. I’d rather love or hate a movie. For being a movie about wizardry and magic, it was pretty dull. The studio has already ordered three or four sequels, so I’m hoping the next one will fix some of the problems that plagued this one.
Story: ★½ of 5
Action: ★★½ of 5
Visuals: ★★★★ of 5
Overall: ★★ of 5
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