Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 13 min.

Release Date: November 18th, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: David Yates Actors: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Dan Fogler, Carmen Ejogo, Ezra Miller, Jenn Murray

 


 

A

n expert in rarely seen, often misunderstood magical creatures, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City intent on aiding one such wayward beast. But it’s not long before the young writer is apprehended by magic investigator Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) after he unwittingly violates statutes of secrecy in the city’s highly protective wizarding community. When some of Newt’s more elusive animals escape his care and begin causing havoc in the streets, he teams up with Tina, her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and down-on-his-luck baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to locate the mischievous beings, all while dark forces begin brewing in the background to unleash a terrible entity that will threaten the existence of both worlds.

It starts with a hint of that classic Harry Potter theme music before revealing a new leitmotif that has quite a bit of zing to it – though it’s infrequently repeated, while Kowalski’s accompanying tune is, later, more prominent. But then it segues to a few seconds of tumultuous, flashing, magical flurries. It isn’t a new element for this familiar universe, but it’s certainly a continuing problem: the use of showy computer graphics as a substitution for comprehendible solutions.

The new lead character is also something of a peculiarity – he’s not nearly as endearing as he hopes to be. With vagabond garb, mussed hair, and oversized shoes (not entirely unlike Chaplin’s classic tramp), Scamander spills critters out of his broken suitcase, seemingly just for the comic thrill of chasing them down and stuffing them back into the feeble compartment. To counter his carelessness, he casts a bunch of spells, causes more slapstick mishaps, and then repeats the process. He’s joined by comparably insincere, unfocused supporting players, each more interested in bumbling around and pursuing childish romance (for some reason, the backup roles are the ones who have an onscreen romance, not the leading couple who really ought to have the attention paid) than getting to the bottom of potentially dangerous beasts lurking throughout a bustling city in search of food (or procreation).

Most audiences will be very comfortable in the Harry Potter world, particularly with the inexplicable bits of magic utilized to save the day (especially when it comes to conjuring sorcery or manifesting artifacts of specific importance to the very task at hand), but this latest adventure really only works for longtime fans. There’s not much backstory for Newt, nor does he ever elaborate on why he’s even in New York; he seems to have enough wiggle room in his schedule to wander off on exhilarating debacles and to momentarily save the world, but he’s required to leave promptly back to Britain for vague duties – so as not to bolster his new friendships. And yet, despite such limited introductions to all the new characters – allowing an opportunity to immediately delve into the action – the pacing is still glaringly off. Time is wasted left and right, primarily for comedy relief (nearly every persona contributes to the humor), while fresh predicaments and their remedies are practically generated at random (along with downtime enough to explain what just happened), as if the community of wizards were forever engaged in schemes of occult racketeering.

There are a few interesting ideas at play, but they’re typically neglected for some interruptive commotion. The New Salem hate group is unusually potent, with a villainess mouthpiece (Samantha Morton) and miserable little pupils spreading loathsome intolerance (along with the very notion of the continued persecution of unaccountable individuals), but these characters and their actions (and the violence associated with them) is so tonally different than the other segments that they appear as if from a different movie. Surely the same people who fear witchcraft and supernatural menace aren’t equally afraid of a colorful buffoon waving a tiny wand. But then, of course, it’s revealed that magic wielders are just as corrupt and cruel and barbaric as regular humans (themselves a vile, destructive plague). By the end, however, the levity wins out, garnering more memorable moments of fun than sequences of depressing destruction, even if nothing entirely new has been brought to the table for this long-awaited Potter prequel. As an extra point of convenience (and annoyance) in the scripting, the contrived invention of obliterating human memories creates a paradox like those found in time travel escapades – wherein the entire contents of this movie has been undone, retaining almost no real impact on any of the participants.

– The Massie Twins

  • 4/10