The first reviews I saw for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them were pretty flat. At first, I thought critics were just turning on J.K. Rowling, but when the credits rolled, I found myself double checking to be sure she actually wrote it. To be frank, I was shocked by how bad the movie was.
Fantastic Beasts does nothing to make you love its setting. There’s no wonder to it, beyond the moments we get inside Newt’s TARDIS-like suitcase. New York City is portrayed as a bleak place mostly devoid of anything worth hoping to save. The American wizarding world is a cold bureaucracy and the city itself draws direct parallels to Salem (as in witch trials).
The sort of character development that, for me, makes Rowling’s work so wonderful went missing without a trace here. Newt (the main character), is a poor man’s Doctor Who (note the TARDIS reference), and Jacob is a well-meaning oaf who we’re meant to like because Newt quite literally says so.
The plotline with Newt tracking down his beasts is only half the story. On the other side, stock-villainous-type played by Colin Farrell is searching for a magical child who isn’t Harry Potter because it’s only the 20s. We’re told this child must fit certain parameters, and the big reveal is that they don’t. All we’re given for an explanation is “somehow,” the rules don’t apply. “Somehow” isn’t a satisfying answer to anything, and it’s a prime example of the problem magic poses to a story. Magic can be anything, but it has to bend to its own logic. It doesn’t in this movie.
What’s somehow worse, the two stories don’t really share any significant link. They just cross paths with each other because they’re happening in the same place at the same time. It’s the epitome of lazy writing.
Fantastic Beasts gives us some cool visuals, but I burned out on them less than halfway through the movie when it became clear the story wanted to throw around the weight of the Harry Potter films without earning any of its own.
I expected to come out of the theatre at least satisfied. The end result is that Fantastic Beasts isn’t even good enough to get me interested in the next installment.
Like Jim I had to double check that J. K. Rowling wrote the screenplay to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She’s a great writer and I enjoy the Harry Potter books, but all this movie did was spur me to reread the original books.
Not only does Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them not live up to the Harry Potter universe, it doesn’t live up to its title. We see plenty of fantastic beasts, but we never see their natural habitats. Where do lions come from, kids? Not Africa. Savanna’s wrong too. That’s right; lions come from zoos. Yes. These fantastic beasts live in a magical zoo inside a suitcase. If I called a story “On the Road,” you wouldn’t expect me to spin a tale of how I spent Saturday on my couch eating Flaming Hot Cheetos. Fantastic Beasts is a Flaming Hot Cheeto. Actually, I like the occasional Flaming Hot Cheeto, so the movie better resembles the process that happens a few hours after I eat.
I agree with Jim and his assessment of the world outside the magical, suitcase zoo. The wizarding bureaucracy sucks almost as much life out of the Harry Potter universe as the focus on trade negotiations and parliamentary procedures did during Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.
You’d also be hard pressed to find an American wizard to root for in this movie. The two females are merely love interests and the principal American male is a bumbling no-maj or muggle. This same guy is two or three years removed from serving in the military and looks like he ate his twin brother and didn’t bother to work off the calories. They didn’t make United States Army uniforms to fit a man his size in World War I; they don’t make them that size today. And the British protagonist Newt Scamander is unlikeable but that’s probably because he stinks at his job.
Let’s look past Scamander giving one of his fantastic beasts to a gangster for information, which was terrible enough, and focus on why he’s in the United States. He’s in the U.S. to release a thunderbird into its natural habitat, but he never makes it to Arizona. No, Scamander releases the rehabilitated and confused thunderbird in New York City. That’s the equivalent of a wildlife conservationist taking that same zoo lion mentioned earlier, nursing it to health, and dropping it in the middle of the Sahara Desert. In under 200 miles you’d get a dead lion. Thunderbirds aren’t the same as lions, but when we’re first introduced to the thunderbird, Scamander says it’d be catastrophic if it escaped in New York because it’d get lost. That’s exactly what he does at the end of the film.
The movie has three parts, not just two, but the third part is so underdeveloped that it’s easy to forget. Colin Ferrell’s stock villain is Johnny Depp in disguise as a reheated Voldemort. Fantastic Beasts does such an awful job of setting this up that when I saw the big reveal, I didn’t make the connection that Depp was supposed to be Grindelwald. Barfed up news clippings and name drops didn’t clarify Depp’s appearance. When the time came, I wondered what an elderly Mortdecai was doing in the film.
Even though it’s burdened by exposition and populated with stock characters, Fantastic Beasts showed off some brilliant visuals. That’s not enough for me to like a film and that’s what most critics were saying about The Phantom Menace. Fantastic Beasts is almost that bad.
Thanks for reading.