Let me get one thing straight, I am not that big a fan of the Harry Potter franchise. Of course the books are imaginative, adventurous, revolutionary, and filled with great characters. Of course the movies are entertaining, beautiful to look at, well-acted, and chocked with great music and F/X. However, I didn’t enjoy the movies as much as other fans. My favorite book/film adaptation is The Chamber of Secrets because it upped the darkness but didn’t lose its whimsical tone. As the movies went on, they got drastically darker (a complete 180 from the innocent goofiness of the first two), the humor became less funny, and the plotholes became more prevalent. Guess how excited I was when they announced a money-grabbing prequel?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is directed by David Yates and written by J.K. Rowling. Stars-Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Colin Ferrell, Samantha Morton, and Ezra Miller. Premise-70 years before Harry Potter, wizard/zoologist Newt Scamander (Redmayne) travels to New York to be greeted by the hustle and bustle of urban life. With it comes the discovery of social tensions between humans (aka no-Maj) and wizards, unimaginably powerful forces, corruption, and friends.
What I love about having less than 50 subscribers is that I don’t have to fear fanboy backlash (which is why it was easy to put all my thoughts in my Ghostbusters 2016 review). With that in mind, Fantastic Beasts is extremely passable, just passable. I never approved of this idea because it just seemed like a method to print money. Yeah, yeah, the original writers made it, and they say they loved creating it, and what not. I would believe that more if production companies weren’t pushing further sequels/prequels after the Deathly Hallows movies grossed over $2.3 billion! In addition, remember Finding Dory? The sequel that (despite Pixar stating that they will stay away from sequels) was made purely to make money? It doesn’t help that both of these movies are subpar when compared to their predecessors.
Before I unload my wrath upon Fantastic Beasts’ story, let’s talk about what was worth the ticket price. I am very impressed with the crew because everything looks amazing! The sets, costumes, and a few F/X perfectly capture the time period and the magic of wizardry. However, the best thing about this movie is the cast, particularly Dan Fogler and Eddie Redmayne. Typically, Fogler is an absolute pain on screen. If he is not playing a sexist or narcissistic idiot (as demonstrated in Good Luck Chuck and Mars Needs Moms), he can be a pretty funny actor. Before this film, Balls of Fury was his best performance, but Fantastic Beasts gave him much more material. In fact, without him, this movie would be 30% worse. Since he plays a no-Maj, he is the most relatable character, and plays the straight man to his goofy counterparts. Most of the good comedy in this movie comes from scenes he is in, and Fogler’s charm is ever-present. Redmayne is also given plenty of opportunity to shine, which can be awkward at times (since he’s playing an awkward character), but I liked his performance.
The biggest problem with this movie is J.K. Rowling’s writing. “[over-the-top gasp] no! How dare you insult that genius!” Calm down, she is an excellent novelist… not an excellent screenwriter (there is a huge difference between the two). This is her first screenplay, and it really shows. Many of the characters are underdeveloped, there are 1001 tangents that break up the plot, and entire scenes could have been cut. If you thought the drastic shift in tone between The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban (the movie versions), then watch in awe as Fantastic Beasts switches from ridiculously silly, to depressing, to whimsical, to dead-straight, to sinister and back to silly. You can shift in tone and still retain a sense of pacing and atmosphere (Pixar writers do this very well), but this script needed to be edited many times. There is one scene that takes place in a park that feels exactly like a rejected plot from a Fairly Oddparents episode, and not too long after that, we are treated to some extremely unsettling domestic abuse (that scene felt like Stephen King wrote it).
Not helping the story is the fact that this movie is way more political than it needs to be. Harry Potter took place largely in the wizarding world, and any time muggles were brought into it, it was to add tension and further the plot. Since we are in the muggle world, there is a lot less magic and whimsy, and subsequently, a lot less fun. There is a lot of dialogue devoted to explaining the complicated relations between the no-Maj’s and the wizards (entire scenes are nothing but meetings). This results in a boringly slow pace, and a terrible, terrible climax. Think of all the great battles of the Harry Potter movies (including giant snakes, the deaths of loved ones, top notch visuals, and spellbinding duels), Fantastic Beasts goes for a more melodramatic/moral climax, but it disappoints. Heck, the whole movie builds up to a potentially devastating reveal that would rock the entire world, but cops out and conveniently ties up all loose ends Phantom Menace style.
If I am being totally honest, watching the political debates would have been more fun and more relatable than watching this movie. It is not the worst, but if you were expecting another The Force Awakens (which I also didn’t enjoy that much), you will be disappointed. I hope they up their game for the sequels (which have already been greenlit), for now I have some finals to prepare for. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.
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