MOVIE REVIEW – It’s evident by now, that J.K. Rowling can’t quite let go of the “Harry Potter” universe. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the new movie written by Rowling herself and directed by favored Harry Potter director, David Yates, was recently announced as the first of a planned five-movie franchise — a sort of prequel/spinoff from the world explored in eight “Potter” movies, inspired by a Hogwarts textbook.
Our story begins in 1926 New York, where Newt Scamander – a “magizoologist” and former Hogwarts student (Eddie Redmayne) has just arrived with a suitcase full of magical beasts in tow. After wandering through the city, Newt finds a city torn by a mysterious destructive force (it’s like “a dark wind with eyes”), and a missing dark wizard.
…so why does “Fantastic Beasts” feel ever-so-slightly flat? The special effects are nothing short of excellent, especially the lighthearted entrances and exits of a funny beast through that battered suitcase, and a breathtaking scene during which the camera flies through the whimsical offices of the Magical Congress of the United States of America.
The titular beasts themselves — which are either scary, cuddly or goofy — are all more than ready for their close-ups. Adding to that, the magical power of John Williams’ iconic “Harry Potter” theme music is delicately playing over the opening moments to send us a happy shiver down Harry Potter’s aficionados backbone. What could go wrong?
Almost no one to care about
The movie’s real problem’s is one of charisma. The early “Harry Potter” movies were populated by sympathetic young children (nearly all of whom, surprisingly, grew up to be pretty good actors) and veteran actors who dominated their brief scenes.
Here we have an Eddie Redmayne, who can be otherwise a fine actor (“The Theory of Everything”) when he’s not need to be weirdly “adorable”, and to get lost in a sea of glassy-eyed vagueness, wistful smiles and stunned expressions – he really reminded me a confused younger Hugh Grant character. And I have to confess that one of the most annoying actors for me was always the perplexed Hugh Grant with the constant idiotic expressions on his face. Almost the same goes for confused Redmayne.
Other problem with this Newt, that as much as he tries, he can’t seem to find much chemistry, romantic or otherwise, with the Auror-turned-ally Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who is supposed to be his wife later according to Harry Potter lore.
On the other hand, Dan Fogler is a lot funnier character as a No-Maj (the American word for muggle) would-be baker who gets caught up in helping round up Newt’s missing beasts. And there’s undeniable talent in the supporting roles — Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Carmen Ejogo — though as yet no character as distinctive as, say, Snape or McGonagall. Colin Farrell’s acting is almost flawless, as the usually cold and creepy Mr. Graves, the main antagonist of the movie. As you probably already know, there’s also a cameo by Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, whose role he will also play in the following movies. During the very short scene, I wasn’t that much convinced whether he’s a good Grindevald or not, but of course that was just a glimpse of his character.
The other problem is with the pacing of the movie. The first part of the scenario is very slow and sometimes frankly boring, with Newt running around and trying to catch his beasts getting loose and wreaking havoc in 1926 New York. The beasts are truly funny but this “family cartoon” fun is somewhat off mixed with the general darker mood of the movie. There are some grisly murders as well and kinky remarks from a very sexy Katherine Waterson aren’t missing from the movie either. This movie is definitely made for a more mature audience than the first few Harry Potters.
So there’s room for improvement in the “Fantastic Beasts” universe; perhaps we’ll see it in the next installment or two. I am not truly convinced that this universe needs such a huge amount of follow-ups either.
My other issue was that the movie was a bit too Harry Potter fan-centered, and if you are not among them, you might be a bit lost about the movie’s universe. Indeed, the movie gives you a poor job at explaining things and even though I have seen the first four movies, not being a fan, I more or less forgot things about the Harry Potter universe.
Not for everyone
While Fantastic Beast is full of imagination from J.K. Rowling, it can be truly recommended to the fans if her works and movie adaptations. The 3D sights and sounds are excellent, but the plot could be better focused, and there’s a bit of discrepency between the „family friendly” and grislier parts of the movie. It’s clearly not a movie you would happily bring your kid with you, but if you are a grown-up Harry Potter fan, Fantastic Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is worthy addition to the myth. Let’s hope for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them an even more magical adventure next time.