“Fantastic Beasts” Bites Off More Than It Can Chew
Five years removed from the final Harry Potter installment, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks a return to the wizarding world. However, you will find no sign of Harry, Ron, or Hermione. The film, which is loosely based on a supplemental book written by J.K. Rowling, serves as a prequel to the Potter franchise, with the story taking place roughly seventy years before The Sorcerer’s Stone.
This review should be prefaced by the fact that neither of us has read the aforementioned book. With that said, none of the previous eight Harry Potter movies required such pre-watching criteria, and thus neither should Fantastic Beasts. This is where the similarities between the beloved Harry Potter films and this stale spin-off ends.
Fantastic Beasts follows an affable Brit named Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, as he travels to early 20th century New York City with nothing but an unwieldy briefcase. It is revealed quickly that Newt has brought with him magical animals from around the world, all of which are banned in the United States. A series of goofs and gaffes by Scamander entangles him with the American version of the Ministry of Magic, the MACUSA. He then becomes involved with a MACUSA investigation concerning the mysterious and seemingly random destruction of property in New York, and his knowledge of magical beasts becomes key to the investigation. Moreover, the magicians are continuously trying to keep their magical abilities hidden from the “no-maj” or American muggles.
Following an incredibly successful series with a spin-off or continuation movie is incredibly difficult, and so in that vein, Fantastic Beasts should be allowed some imperfections. Yet, Fantastic Beasts still falls far short of expectations despite this generous handicap. The movie clearly relies on the strength of the Harry Potter brand to reach box office success. The plot offers little intricacy, leaving the audience waiting for the quite predictable climax. This is especially disappointing considering the quality and tone of the final Harry Potter movies, featuring challenging and at times dark scenarios for the band of Hogwarts pals. In addition to its fairly linear direction, the movie does little to establish the setting. When imagining the wizarding world in England, many parts of the culture are discussed. However, while it is clear what time period this movie takes place in, it does not do enough to recreate the wizarding world we have come to know so well.
The acting is the bright spot of this movie. The supporting cast is solid, with what might become a breakout performance by Dan Fogler as Kowalski, his only starring role since being in Balls of Fury in 2007 (hysterical movie, but we digress). Nonetheless, the star of the show, Eddie Redmayne, delivers perfectly. He masterfully produces one of the more life-like characters seen in awhile, creating the persona of a person who is well suited for his occupation in the movie. At this point in his career, it is not too much of a stretch to compare Redmayne to a young LeBron James. Redmayne is on the verge of being able to singlehandedly take a lackluster movie and make it watchable, at the very least.
Fantastic Beasts, however, was a bit too much for Redmayne to carry alone, and while his character is someone who many should want to see more of, the rest of the story can be left behind. Fantastic Beasts exposes a larger and well-written about issue in Hollywood today, that being the re-use of previously successful brands to create new box-office success. Not to say Hollywood has become uncreative, but it is certainly not running at its peak capacity. The goal should not be to create another Harry Potter movie. The goal should be to create the next Harry Potter.