In the parlance of the wizarding world of Harry Potter (in as much as I understand it), I’m a serious No-Maj – or Muggle – as in I don’t know a Snidget from Shinola; so forgive me as I stumble my way through reviewing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then you’re going to see this film regardless of (what you might feel are) my misguided thoughts about it. So to you, enjoy, and be sure to add your constructive comments to the conversation below. For the rest of you, well, here’s my layman’s perspective from a cinematic standpoint.
With this first-time screenplay by the renowned Harry Potter author, based on her magic zoology book of the same title, J.K. Rowling basically delivers something very similar to the original Men in Black storyline – Men in Black Magic, if you will – but that is set in 1920s New York City, with wizards instead of aliens. And I can’t say that Rowling is well suited for screenwriting as her story meanders more than an Erumpent in search of a mate. (Yes, I had to look that up.)
Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York on a mission to recover fantastic beasts that are wandering the streets; but he also finds himself embroiled in a brewing battle between the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), overseen by Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo), and the witch hating Second Salemers, led by an evil, wizard-hating mother (Samantha Morton.)
There are not a whole lot of surprises going on here. You know that the bumbling No-Mag (No-Magic) baker, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), is going to accidentally switch his briefcase with Scamander’s identical magical one; you know you’re going to be misdirected as to the identity of the evil entity that is destroying New York City; and you know Jacob & Newt will become fast friends and fall in awkward love with female-wizard sisters, Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston.)
The film also stars (upcoming) Justice League Flash imposter, Ezra Miller, as a timid Second Salemer; Colin Farrell as the head of Macusa security; Hellboy’s Ron Perlman as a goblin gangster; and Jon Voight as the patriarch of a political family – a subplot that could have and should have been cut from this overlong film altogether.
Directed by David Yates, who simultaneously helmed the much better film, The Legend of Tarzan, Fantastic Beasts simply has too much going on for a single film. I would have much rather seen Newt Scamander focus on collecting his fun computer-generated creatures and forget all the other time-consuming (and mostly boring) subplots.
That said, I also take issue with Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander. I overall dig the character (and I usually like Eddie as an actor), but Redmayne’s accent coupled with what seemed like a chaw of tobacco under his lip while talking about mythical creatures with made-up names made him almost undecipherable to me. Billywigwhat…? And is that a Baby-Groot in your pocket…?
Fantastic Beasts has some decent special effects and is mildly entertaining – and I’m certain there is wizarding world minutia in its narrative that I missed altogether – but for a Harry Potter novice this film is severely lacking in storytelling magic. Grade: 5/10
Photos © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.