It’s kind of inevitable Harry Potter would get some cinematic revival. When there’s that much money potential it’s hard for studio execs to say no. And if it absolutely had to happen maybe this was the best way to do it. Keep the universe but change the time and place and hey, why not put a young Oscar winner in for the lead. Seems to vaguely make sense.
And yet Fantastic Beasts makes something that’s just… fine. Check out this video on how passable videos are an epidemic. I would call this the most passable movie of them all. It doesn’t do much wrong but does very little that’s actually interesting.
The most clear cut problem is how on earth are they going to make five movies on this plot-line. It felt a little stretched here, and it seems they’re forgetting the title is ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them’* on. Most likely it’s heading to the much-alluded Aberforth v Dumbledore showdown while Newt runs around with some animals on the side. That might be one decent film. Definitely not four.
As a setting America is far more dull than England. Hogwarts was a wonderful mix of comfort and fantasy. It provided somewhere that felt simultaneously spectacular and homely. New secrets about the castle unfold throughout the story: really it’s a character itself and fully deserves the reverence it holds in pop culture. We wanted to spend 7 films there, and ended up with eight. Wizarding New York on the other hand is… New York… but there are a few wizards hanging around? That’s pretty much it. The original would have given us time to marvel at the magical architecture and find some clever little way of hiding all that secret wizard buildings across the city. Here they just recycle old methods and sweeps us through paint-by-numbers without any time to breathe… J.K Rowling’s greatest strength is world-building but there’s no time for any of that here. The only scene that comes close is when we see the full extent of what Newt’s hiding in his suitcase but it lacks any real purpose here: it’s just showing off some CG inventiveness. And that’s okay, the scene is a lot of fun. The larger problem is that this detour feels welcome: we’re happy to leave the main plot for some magic fun. This wouldn’t happen in the original series.
The third act is a typical 2016 action movie showdown. Really it’s not too dissimilar from the one in Suicide Squad: ‘Go to the Subway to face the big villain’. If this was an individual film it would it would work best as Eddie Redmayne running around wizarding New York chasing magic animals. That could be fun. But it needs everything else so it has something to work off without repeating itself. And this need for setting up the future just ends up watering everything down. I really hope the decision to green-light the five film series before it was even released comes back to bite them. This one did make a lot of money but if it’s five middling films the audience will get tired eventually. There’s only so much the world can take. At least I hope there is.
* Also, The title suggests I’d learn where to find these beasts but none of them are in the natural habitat [Angry Fist Shaking]