Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them introduces the newest creation from Harry Potter scribe J. K. Rowling. It is slated for at least five films including this one, and judging by the reaction from audiences and critics (present company excluded), they are off to a decent start. Now out on DVD and On Demand, the film stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander a disgraced writer and wizard from Hogwarts. He has arrived in New York City in the 1920’s to purchase an Appaloosa Puffskein(some kind of a horse, if I am not mistaken)as a birthday present (one would assume for Albus Dumbledore, since Dumbledore defended Newt at his expulsion proceeding at Hogwarts). Upon arriving, Newt’s magical suitcase is accidentally opened and several of his magical creatures are loosed on an unsuspecting New York City.
Since most of his creatures are for good (with the minor exception of some that are thieves) there is not that much of a pressing need to track them all down. But collect them, Newt must and while the wizard community is dealing with a slate of very destructive “occurrences” by an unknown perpetrator or perpetrators called Obscurials. Obscurials are people who possess dark magic that consumes them and unleashes horrific destruction. Nothing good ever comes from an Obscurial and it ends up with the person behind the Obscurial ends up dead.
Fantastic Beasts is a rather handsome film, crammed to the limit with visual effects that will dazzle and amaze even the most ardently anti-CGI fan. I did enjoy the visuals of Fantastic Beasts, to be clear. The cinematography by Phillipe Rousselot and production values are all first rate even down to the costumes. Everything looks authentic and stylish. I enjoyed the cast especially Katherine Waterston as Tina, a magical community “police officer” of sorts and her sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) who is a mind reader. I enjoyed Dan Fogler as a bumbling, but good hearted oaf who has returned home from World War I and only looks to open a bakery. I enjoyed the character of Graves (Colin Farrell), a nefarious official in the Magica community. James Newton Howard provides a soaring score befitting a fantasy film like this.
In truth, I enjoyed good bit of most of the elements that make up Fantastic Beasts. What the film does well, it does exceedingly well. Where the film fails me is with the character of Newt Scamander and Eddie Redmayne’s performance. Still channeling Bea Arthur from his wretched performance in an equally disgraceful film, Jupiter Ascending, Mr. Redmayne’s performance is rather bland and uninteresting. He shows very little emotion and has no arc with his character. Where he is at the beginning of the film is where he ends up by the end of the film and since he is the lead character, it took me out of the film on a number of occasions.
Some of the logistics of Fantastic Beasts did not make sense to me, either. These wizards can zap themselves from one location to another at the speed of light, it seems, but Newt still needs to take a ship from England to America. Why can’t he just zap himself into New York? I suppose a hardcore Harry Potter fan can explain that one to me later. Colin Farrell, who provides a great deal of menace to Fantastic Beasts is not really given that much screen time, but the film would have benefitted if he was given more to do. I mean, you have a great actor who can play a great villain but instead of developing his character we are subjected to Newt doing a ridiculous ritual to ensnare huge beast who is looking for a mate.
David Yates, who has directed four of the Harry Potter films and is slated to direct ALL of the Fantastic Beasts films, has a good eye for framing shots and choreographing the action. J. K. Rowling pens the script for this film and does a fine job of adapting her own material to the big screen. But when your lead character and actor is the problem, then your movie has a problem. Still, there is a lot to like about this film. It is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and it has its moments of fun and wonder, but every time Eddie Redmayne is on screen he manages to bring the film to a screeching halt in many instances. I know he is a fine actor and this is not a personal jab, but for this film, he is the wrong one to play Newt, to me.
Fantastic Beasts has additional characters that are largely a waste of time and material. Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) is the local purist who decries anything magical and Henry Shaw Sr. (Jon Voight) is the local paper publisher whose son is poised to be the next Senator from New York. These are characters that are never really developed into people and seem to flail about. Ezra Miller (The Flash) is Credence, the local misfit who is up to no good. He is essential to the story but not until the last act of the film. I would have cut the other characters above out, entirely and given Credence an even bigger part since he ends up being such an important character.
Overall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a disappointment for me. Oh sure, it has its moments but overall there was just too much wrong with it for me to stay interested in what was happening. I know most will love this film and I will confess that I am curious about where they go from here with this story. I suppose I will have to accept Eddie Redmayne as Newt, whether I like it or not. Maybe a can of Red Bull before the film starts would give this guy some energy so we would not have to listen to him say his lines through gritted teeth.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – **3/4 out of 5
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Rated PG-13 for violence, magical mayhem, and sexual innuendo
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Run Time is 133 minutes
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is now available on DVD, On Demand and subscription services.