Sunday, November 20, 2016

Movie Review: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (Review #2)


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the 2016 spin-off film from the wildly popular and influential Harry Potter franchise. J.K. Rowling steps into the screenwriter seat, creating new lore and stories for a period some 70 years prior to the events of the Harry Potter franchise. David Yates returns to direct his fifth film in the Potter-verse and the film stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and Ezra Miller.

I’ll get right out in front of it, this is the first film in the Potter-verse I did not enjoy and I left feeling highly disappointed. There may be hope someday down the road, however. On the positive end of things, I do think most of the characters were well drawn. I started to care about Newt Scamander (Redmayne) and get invested in his story, which was essential for any of this film to work. I also really enjoyed Samantha Morton and her performance which had fascinating nuances and was a lot of fun to watch. The other positive I will comment on is the general aesthetic and the beasts themselves. This film has a lot of interesting things (new and old from the Harry Potter films) that looked great on screen and the beasts were all very creatively designed and felt like they were straight off the pages of Rowling’s books.


That’s where my praise ends. Beyond those slight elements, this film is formulaic, all over the place tonally, and, though well-drawn, the characters aren’t given anything compelling to do. For the most part this film plods along like a season of Pok√©mon with them having to catch a variety of beasts set loose in New York and it ties in a bunch of over-the-top set-pieces to do so. This keeps the film moving and visually engaging but it lacks any narrative intrigue and I could not care less about what was happening as a result. They then splice this material together with slow universe building scenes (that were often very poorly scripted) and some other plotlines that are extremely dark in nature in opposition to the fun tone of the main through line. Despite all this going on, our characters are not really given anything interesting to do. The interesting characters are shoved into these simplistic corners, and the other characters are in complex storylines, but not given anything to do acting-wise (Miller and Farrell in particular had their talents wasted).

In addition to these problems, there is the comedy. This film has some brutal comic relief. It has moments where a good chuckle is merited and happens, but it is too frequently used, and often too simplistic, that it gets old fast. Dan Fogler is given a lot of this flat comedic dialogue and physical comedy throughout the film. This really grated on me and I frequently hoped his character would go away somehow.


There is something I want to discuss in this review that some will consider a spoiler. It is information about the universe building and not the plot. If you would like to avoid that consider this your SPOILER ALERT and skip the paragraph immediately below.

A major thing I was excited to see in this film was showing what the wizard community in the United States is like. The Harry Potter films entirely kept us confined to the United Kingdom and we intimately learned about their world and government. This film took us out of that and had a great opportunity to establish some new interesting elements. Unfortunately, this completely dropped the ball. Although I am not British, from my knowledge of their history (and European history generally), I felt a lot of their culture (particularly from the middle ages) woven into the fabric of that world. It’s one J.K. Rowling knows intimately and effectively presented. In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them I felt almost no sense of America in their wizarding community. It certainly hits on a couple things from American history but none of them are very interestingly used nor nuanced. For example, the film definitely wants to hit a racism/slavery note, it definitely wants to hit prohibition and Al Capone, and it definitely emphasizes the Salem Witch trials. But that’s about it. It doesn’t highlight how or why American wizards are culturally different from those in the United Kingdom. It doesn’t address any of the revolutionary cultural elements quintessential to the fabric of America (and particularly quintessential to its government). It just showed a world completely devoid of any of the interesting things we expected to see and I left this film feeling very down trodden about the whole situation.

Overall, I felt quite disappointed by Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I thought this film had some neat characters with decent performances as well as some cool imagery but it lacked intrigue and tonal consistency. It had weak comedy and had some setting elements that were problematic. I have hope with the ending of this film that the other four films in this series will be good, but this is the first (of nine) Potter films I haven’t enjoyed.

Ryan’s Score: 5.5/10

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