While the Beasts are Fantastic, the Movie is Not So

By Karl-Erik Mills, Staff Writer and Videographer

   Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 marked the end of the Harry Potter film franchise, which had spanned ten years and eight movies, and inspired a demographic of children and adults alike. The legacy of the film series is near indescribable, but the box office numbers and critical reception speak for themselves. So few franchises have released consistently amazing movies that always manage to capture the feeling of the first entry. Now, five years since the release of Deathly Hallows Part 2, the wizarding world has made it back to the big screen with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

   Much of the crew has returned, with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling as the author of the screenplay and David Yates (Director of the last four installments to the universe) returning to direct. The story of Fantastic Beasts diverges from the chronicles of young Harry Potter and instead focuses on the wizarding community of 1920’s New York City.

   The film follows English wizard Newt Scamander, as he traipses around New York trying to capture several mystical creatures before they are revealed to the non-magic population. This contributes to one of the strongest attributes of Fantastic Beasts, how unlike Harry Potter it is. The film doesn’t rely on references to familiar characters or even well known spells. It crafts an entirely new and independent environment that takes clearly bold choices in its story and characters. Newt Scamander, as portrayed brilliantly by Eddie Redmayne, feels like no character we’ve seen before and his awkward sincerity makes him likeable and mysterious.

   Unfortunately, this is the template for almost every character in the film. The interactions between several characters with no self confidence come across as extremely slow and awkward. The exception is with Dan Fogler’s Kowalski. He is not a wizard but he finds himself thrust into Newt’s adventure and feels like the most realistic character due to the sheer amazement he expresses. His outspoken, observational and comedic commentary plays off Redmayne perfectly and makes their scenes the most interesting to watch. The rest of the cast does a fine job, though their characters either lack development or screen time in general.

   Several of the film’s issues could be resolved in a drawn out and detailed book, but Fantastic Beasts has to detail so many subplots and give so much exposition for the future of the universe that it never allots enough time to developing the story at hand. This results in a film that can simply be described as inconsistent.

   The pacing seems to change scene to scene and, by the end, the whole movie feels very awkward. This likely comes from Rowling’s screenplay. The writing lacks continuity in almost all respects. Everything from the character’s motivations to their speech patterns vary randomly. The plot especially is riddled with holes. Very little of it makes genuine sense and many important explanations are completely neglected.

   The sad fact is that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is inherently a poorly executed movie. The pacing and general awkwardness of the characters and story is far from coherent. That being said, there is still hope for the franchise. Just as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone needed to be exposition heavy to introduce the setting, Fantastic Beasts had to sell an entirely new aspect of the magic world, and it did so very successfully. Even though it didn’t focus enough on its own story, it left open limitless possibilities for the next step in the franchise.

   The future movies can’t redeem the shortcomings of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, though. Whether the next installment is good or not won’t change the fact that this re-entry into the Harry Potter universe is disappointing, at best.

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