Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review
Full of magical creatures but not the magic that made the Harry Potter movies so excellent, J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a moderately entertaining but notably darker and less enjoyable spinoff.
To compare Fantastic Beasts to Harry Potter isn't entirely fair; the movie stars no children, is more adult oriented and is tonally leagues apart. On the flipside, it's set in the same world as Harry Potter (only 85 years earlier), features a bunch of wizards and witches doing wizardly things, and exists to… well, keep the magic alive.
So comparing the movies isn't entirely unfair, either.
Fantastic Beasts is a generally fun, fast-moving film that has a nerdy, awkward dude (played by nerdy, awkward Eddie Redmayne) running around New York to retrieve a bunch of magical creatures that have escaped from his suitcase. Meanwhile, a series of deadly attacks has the local wizarding government suspecting that he's responsible.
Redmayne is fine in the lead and arguably perfect for the part, even if the part isn't particularly great. His character is somewhat annoying and will do nothing to convince my wife that Eddie Redmayne isn't a creepy, weird dude, should she ever see this movie, which she won't because I'm not sure Fantastic Beasts is fantastic again for me to watch it again (in contrast to the Harry Potter movies, each of which I've seen dozens of times).
Dan Fogler is the real scene stealer; he plays a muggle (in America, known as a no-maj) who gets drawn into the secret world of magic and really does nothing other than provide perfectly timed comedic relief.
Comedic relief is welcome, because Fantastic Beasts certainly strikes a darker, more serious tone. The movie is full of wondrous, often playful creatures that will make you giggle, but even still, director David Yates (who directed the last several, and certainly the most serious, Harry Potter movies) applies such a dark lens to things at times it is incredibly challenging to become fully immersed in the world he and Rowling are attempting to bring to life. The film's setting--New York City--and lack of child actors also make Fantastic Beasts feel quite different. It’s an intentional move--this movie was never going to be just another Harry Potter movie. That doesn’t mean it’s a wise move.
A cult, led by a physical abusive foster mother, is an odd addition to the story (an allegory to persecution of gay people, no doubt, but not a very profound one), as are scenes of near executions and other serious matters.
A villain that is essentially a giant angry cloud of anger (seriously, Hollywood, stop making giant clouds bad guys. It. Does. Not. Work.) makes for a largely ho-hum third act (it’s entertaining, but in a generic, CGI-stuffed kind of way).
Nonetheless, there is plenty to like in Fantastic Beasts--just not a lot to love. The movie is clearly setting the stage for sequels to come, but as a standalone film, its story, while entertaining, is immensely forgettable. The actors have good chemistry, but their characters are just okay. The movie has a great cast (Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Katherine Waterston, Samantha Morton, etc.) but most are not used to their full potential (Farrell is especially bland and completely wasted).
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has magic, but not enough to be magical. While I'm curious to see what comes next, the movie didn't do enough to build anticipation for round two--and the big reveal at the end has the opposite effect than intended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.