- Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
- IMDb: link
Harry Potter Lite? Based on the spin-off novella by J.K. Rowling, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first Harry Potter movie without Harry Potter. Taking place decades before Harry’s birth, the story is set in New York with wizard Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) arrival in the city with a suitcase full of magical creatures. When some of Scamander’s creatures escape he attempts to hunt them down with the help of some new friends.
The beasts themselves, in all shapes, colors and sizes, are certainly one of the film’s strengths. So to are Redmayne and Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski (the non-magical would-be baker who literally stumbles into a world of magic he never knew existed). However, the prequel isn’t without its problems.
First, the film is too long given its simplistic setup. Feeling every bit its 133-minute running time, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them drags in several spots with more than 45 minutes which could be trimmed from its bloated carcass. Even with all this extra filler the film doesn’t feel fully formed as half the work here is, of course, to set-up in inevitable sequels.
Another big problem is the film’s set-up. Revealing a monster attack in New York well-before Scamander’s arrival in the city means both the audience and the authorities (at least should) know he isn’t responsible for all the chaos in town. Sure, Scamander’s creatures cause some havoc around the city, but none of them are malicious or put the city in any real danger. Had the first attack happened after his beasts were set loose then you have a far more compelling mystery along with exploring Scamander’s guilt over the harm possibly caused by one of his creatures.
My major complaint, however, falls back on the use of the same cheat found in nearly all of the Harry Potter movies. In the series, Harry and his friends are forced to take actions because the adults don’t take the children and their ideas, or the threats they uncover, seriously enough. Despite being overused, the contraption works for the first several films. However, when the main characters in your movie are all adults with legitimate knowledge (even experts) this set-up breaks down rather quickly making every magical official in the movie feel dimwitted or corrupt.
That’s not to say the film is bad; it’s just not as good as the previous films. There’s plenty of magic here, (most of) the core characters and their relationships are fun to watch, and the creatures which do get highlighted are interesting (although I could have done without Redmayne’s mating calls for the weird hippo/rhino hybrid which I’m assuming are meant to play to younger viewers). If I’m ranking all of J.K. Rowling’s movies this one firmly earns the bottom spot behind all of Mr. Potter’s films. I wonder how long it will be before we start talking about the Fantastic Beasts movies in the same way people mention the Star Wars prequels.
While Alison Sudol is delightful as Queenie, I was less impressed with much of the rest of the film’s supporting cast starting with Katherine Waterston as Queenie’s sister (who unfortunately gets far more screentime as the demoted auror attempting to earn the good graces of her superiors). As with the first Harry Potter film, the looming villain of the series is absent for most of the story. Colin Farrell is largely forgettable as the magic cop with his own agenda. Far too much time is given to the anti-witch cult (Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Faith Wood-Blagrove, and Jenn Murray), and the plethora of clueless politicians. And while the title of the film suggests learning much about fantastical beasts, we get less of this than expected given the amount of other characters and subplots which steal time from Scamander and his animal friends.