Over 5 years since the release of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 comes the next film to expand the Wizanrding World of the aforementioned Wizard who Lived has arrived to appease ravenous fans eagerly awaiting something both British and Magical. Written by J.K. Rowling (Author of the original Harry Potter book series) and Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter 5-7b) this new addition to the Universe of Wizards and Witches aims to provide enough to satisfy the more fanatical fans out there while at the same time introducing new and exciting ideas to the otherwise uninterested viewers. Although it has already been announced that this will be the first of FIVE “Fantastic Beasts” movies, would it be possible to establish a stand-alone story worthy of watching instead of a transitional piece of marketing for the greater story to come.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in 1926 as Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has just completed a global journey to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York with a fairly mundane quest in mind, Scamander falls foul to a number of mishaps involving No-Maj (American for Muggle) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some fantastic beasts.
From here on, the story meanders from the weird and whimsical to the dark and unsettling combined in part with both Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell providing a sense of doom to proceedings, “Fantastic Beasts…” seems, on paper at least, to be whole package.
However, instead of the Enchanting variety of Fireworks expected by the audience, what we got instead was a predictable, and at times frustrating Catherine Wheel of a story spinning aimlessly round and round making plenty of noise without really drawing any real attention.
It is obvious to see that “Fantastic Beast…” is the first rung of the ladder required by Warner Brothers to jump start its newest adventure in to the Harry Potter mythology. With throwaway references and dialogue that will probably be reintroduced later on in the series, this felt less like an opening chapter to a story and more like a blurb on the back of the book in question. After over 2 hours of viewing the only questions that were really prominent were “What did we actually learn from this Movie?” Because as far as I can recall, not a whole lot? The final act contained a couple of serious plot holes – that I won’t reveal here – that stank of lazy storytelling in a franchise that has prided itself on being written by a truly brilliant Author.
Sure the character development was steady and the action set pieces weren’t terrible, but overall this story cried out for more for such a long time that by the end of the first round, “Fantastic Beasts…” was already beginning to look tired
ROUND 1 SCORE: 5/10
Round 2 – Characters
As mentioned, Eddie Redmayne stars as the movie’s main protagonist: Newt Scamander, a bumbling English Wizard trying to the best job he can in providing insightful knowledge to new and fascinating mystical creatures. Through his journey he finds himself in the company of No-Maj Kowlaski (Fogler), MACUSA agent Tina (Katherine Waterson) and mind-reading airhead Queenie (Alison Sudal) all doing their part to help Redmayne in his quest to protect these treasured beasts. However for some reason this didn’t seem to click.
The beauty of the Harry Potter franchise is that the characters were given a wealth of time to develop and grow before the major changes began to happen in their lives. With “Fantastic Beasts…” these more adult characters instead take a fraction of the time to grow in ways unheard of in films released beforehand. At no point did the Wizards engulf the screen with their majesty, further adding the perception of viewers (the real muggle of these stories) that this is a peak in to a world otherwise inaccessible to their lesser eyes. Instead it spent too long showing Queenie “Betty Boop” her way around New York and not enough time growing this Wizarding World around them.
The only characters that really showed depth were the sorry members of the Second Salemers, a troubled family of adopted children, tormented by their adoptive Mother Mary Lou Barebone (played in truly disturbing style by Samantha Morton). It is the struggle of Ezra Miller’s character Credence Barebone that really defines this a film worth watching. His portrayal of the troubled adolescent goes to show the sheer depth in which this franchise could potentially reach. From being punished for his wrongdoings to stepping out of the shadows towards the end, “Fantastic Beasts…” steps away from the fish out of water jaunt advertised and projects itself as a much stronger tragedy of one lost boy’s struggle through existence.
ROUND 2 SCORE: 6/10
Round 3 – Overall Enjoyment
What the Harry Potter franchise did above all else was know when to be serious and when to be fun. Throughout its time in cinema it manages to entertain, enthrall and encapsulate millions of people both old and young. “Fantastic Beasts…”, although cut from the same cloth, for some reason couldn’t quite manage to satisfy the precedent established by its predecessor. There were definitely moments that make this film worth watching! I personally loved the scene where we got to see the full extent of the contents inside of Scamander’s case for the first time. However one decent scene does not a great film make.
With underwhelming performances, paper-thin motives and even weaker narrative progression, the longer this story went on, the more unenjoyable it started to feel. This all comes back to the question raised during Round 1: “What did we actually learn from this Movie?” If there is a blatant answer to this question then unfortunately I missed it, because by the end I was more bothered about the rain affecting those on the inside of apartment buildings than the 2 hours of adventure that had meekly preceded it.
ROUND 3 SCORE: 5/10
FINAL SCORE: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM WINS BY SPLIT DECISION 16/30
As I said, although no world-beater, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was made to serve one purpose; satisfy the needs of the millions of blood thirsty fans around the world. If you find that you have craved a brand new piece of entertainment from this ever-expanding Universe then look no further than this here film. However, with a weak story, tame characters and an overall inability to provide a fully enjoyable film, “Fantastic Beast…” will unfortunately reside within the group of films you need to get through before something really interesting happens.