“Don’t go gettin’ attached. He’s gonna have to be obliviated.”
The worldwide phenomenon of the Harry Potter franchise is the direct result of personal attachment. We cared about those characters. We came to know them, understand them, predict their behavior and their words. How can you not see a little piece of yourself in the students and faculty of Hogwarts? That’s where Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them gets nearly everything wrong. While it looks flashy and spectacular, the people we meet are rather awkward and dainty, thrust into a world infinitely more interesting and endearing than their shapeless personalities. Fantastic Beasts reloads the magical cannon with a major misfire. This is the kind of draining and dull movie that I couldn’t wait to wrap itself up and just be over. Minutes go by slower here.
Fantastic Beasts starts with its main threat as we see the back of a man’s head. It’s shaved just above the skull’s inion (that big bump on the back), the top slicked and sharp and blonde. Potterheads will know this to be Grindelwald, the most powerful dark wizard before You Know Who came along. Cut to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a Brit entering 1926 New York with a menagerie of beasts inside his beat up trunk sized bag. Newt runs into the No-Maj (Muggle) veteran and factory worker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), with whom he accidentally switches suitcases. The situation is particularly troubling to Tina (Katherine Waterston), a demoted Auror (a specialized officer) who wants to take him in. The three eventually go back to Tina’s home, meet her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), then join forces. Not only is the film’s human element broken, it’s almost altogether missing.
The film blinks back and forth between the quartet rounding up all of Newt’s escaped beasts and the pursuit of Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell). Something has been causing havoc on the city which Graves, as well as Newt, believes to be the powerful dark force called an Obscurus. That’s the result of magic suppressed out of fear. What does Graves want with it exactly? We’re never quite sure, but he pursues the source with the help of Credence (Ezra Miller), an orphan living in a home dedicated to discrediting magical powers. He’s a quiet and altogether all too obvious threat to our story world. Fantastic Beasts builds to an exhausting last thirty minutes, filled with pointless action, forced romances, and incoherent antagonists. J.K. Rowling knows this story like the back of her hand, but the film doesn’t have the time or the focus to keep our lines of questioning in check.
After all the success he had with Harry Potter, it’s tough to put the blame on director David Yates. He’s dedicated to this brand, possibly to a fault. What it all boils down to – with the flick of the wrist and a murmured charm – is a piecemeal script and poor chemistry between the cast. Take the opening for example. Sprawling shots of newspaper headlines rapidly whiz by for close to a minute. You know who that immediately alienates? All of the little kids eager to see the marvelous animals who are still too young to read or not proficient enough to keep up, which, admittedly, I don’t think I gathered it all either. The choice is atrocious. As is the performance from Redmayne, an actor who continues to rely on physical gimmicks and not pronounced delivery. He shuffles diagonally, left foot in front, his chin tucked into his right shoulder. Newt is meant to be the main character, but of the four he is by far the least engaging and appealing. Fantastic Beasts might be a discourse on collective involvement and an attempt to standardize all the deviations of the magical realm, but when a film lacks consequence, when bad things happen and there are no tangible repercussions, it’s nearly impossible to make the impulsive decisions and actions bear any sort of weight. I’m left with only one real question: how in the hell are they making four more of these?
“I ain’t got the brains to make this up.”
Rating: 2 out of 5