Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Misses Out on a Magical Opportunity

"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (2016) - Movie Review

‘Fantastic Beasts’ Another Victim of Prequel Disappointment

Going into 2016, it was assumed that the year would see the resurgence of Harry Potter. Over the summer, stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child premiered in London, becoming the first new story in nearly a decade. Die-hard fans could even read a “Special Rehearsal Edition Script,” which was met to mixed reviews. But now with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we finally have the main event – another Wizarding World film. The question remains, however. Is this a necessary and worthy expansion on J.K. Rowling’s magical world?

Fantastic Beasts opens just like any other Harry Potter film of the past decade. Brooding logos and a darker iteration of the iconic “Hedwig’s Theme” flash before our eyes. We’re back. Make no mistake about it. While set in the Harry Potter universe, there is no boy wizard, no Dumbledore and no Lord Voldemort. Why would there be either? We’re entering the world of a prequel, spin-off hybrid. That’s surely a mouthful.

Instead of prophecies and almost cliche chosen ones, we’re introduced to magizoologist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who ventures to America with his magical briefcase. Scamander’s an oddball for sure, just like Luna Lovegood from the Potter series. He means well, despite beating to his own drum. Scamander quickly learns that in America, witches and wizards are practically underground. The wizarding community means to keep it this way too. The No-Maj’s (Muggles or non-magic folk) sense that there’s evil brewing. Unfortunately, they are all oblivious of what’s to come.

Scamander’s trip to America doesn’t go without a hitch. During an anti-witch rally in New York City, one of Newt’s magical creatures accidentally gets loose. That’s where the ball starts to roll. Scamander crosses paths with No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and witch official, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). Together, they need to locate all of the creatures wandering around New York. It’s practically Harry Potter meets Pokemon GO.

Fantastic Beasts undoubtedly unlocks the Wizarding World to a new playing field. With Harry Potter, it was a rigid and repetitive structure. It wasn’t until Deathly Hallows – Part I and Part II where the scope reached beyond the walls of Hogwarts. Witnessing the full potential of the Wizarding World is incredibly intriguing, especially set in 1920’s New York City. The glaring flaw is with its underwhelming execution.

SEE ALSO: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them REVIEW by Ashley Menzel

Newt, Jacob and Tina just don’t click as a trio like Harry, Ron and Hermione immediately did in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The three basically play second fiddle to the looming threat. It seems that the terror of dark wizard Grindelwald is the primary focus rather than actually developing characters over the course of the film. And honestly, with four more Fantastic Beasts installments on the horizon, it’s challenging to determine what the franchise endgame is. It’s no cut-and-dry buildup like Harry vs. Voldemort. After one film, there’s hardly anything engaging with these new additions to the franchise. Redmayne is fine, but he’s caught up in a sea of one-dimensional characters.

Slow and uninspired, Fantastic Beasts plods along for over two-plus hours. One minute it’s a game of capture the monsters. Then the next is wizards tearing it apart in New York City. And once you make it to the very end after some uneven pacing, prepare for a Return of the King-esque finish. False endings galore. Potter author J.K. Rowling helms the screenplay and it’s simply a mess of mediocrity. Even with director David Yates returning for this fifth installment, the collaborative efforts seem to be in vain. Much of the magic has vanished since we left the franchise in 2011.

Visually, Fantastic Beasts is a splendid demonstration of Rowling’s endless imagination. Obviously, the technology’s improved and we’re able to experience more realistic and inventive creatures and environments than ever before. The top-notch art direction and noteworthy score by James Newton Howard are also some of the few highlights. Still, it’s a game of smoke and mirrors, dragging this franchise along much longer than necessary. It’s almost as if this franchise has already received its own Dementor’s Kiss.

For the die-hards, Fantastic Beasts will satisfy with its bits of flashy spectacle sprinkled here and there. And they’ll definitely get giddy once a few key elements from the Potter films are referenced. But like the Star Wars prequels and The Hobbit trilogy before, the magic of an iconic franchise can’t be duplicated.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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