I thought the “Harry Potter” phenomenon was FINALLY over with 2011’s satisfying conclusion – “Deathly Hallows Part 2”. But Warner Bros. needed a new, non-superhero franchise. So, with the wave of a magic wand, spinoff prequel “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” has appeared.
Although this is based on just one J.K. Rowling book, the author (who also peened the film’s screenplay – her first) has announced this is Part 1 of FIVE planned installments.
Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander. He’s the Doctor Dolittle of the Wizarding World – a writer who arrives in NYC in 1926 with a suitcase full of magical creatures. His reason for visiting the city is unclear at the start – and, frankly, ridiculous by the end. The creatures quickly escape and a good chunk of the movie is Scamander and a few new friends trying to capture them.
Plenty of overly-silly hijinks ensue, and, at one point, Redmayne is forced to imitate a giant, mutant rhino. I’ve enjoyed Redmayne’s dramatic work in “My Week with Marilyn”, “Les Miserables”, “The Theory of Everything” and “The Danish Girl”. But I really want to use one of Scamander’s potions and erase the rhinoceros impression, and honestly, most of this movie from my memory.
“Fantastic Beasts” is extremely disjointed in tone. Along with the silly moments, Rowling’s script deals with heavy material, such as murder, cults and child abuse. And everything surrounds the central “good vs. evil” plot involving a mysterious dark force that is wiping-out buildings and killing innocent civilians throughout the city. Colin Farrell attempts to add some flavor as the wizard villain, Percival Graves, but the character is flat and non-threatening. The only legitimate surprise comes in the form of a cameo in the movie’s final minutes.
“Potter” had mass appeal. At its core, we watched three children grow-up to become young adults and find themselves. While visually stunning, and with a soaring score, “Fantastic Beasts” is much more of a niche product, lacing the overall wonder, charm and intensity of the “Potter” films. Moviegoers may be enticed to see Johnny Depp in the sequel two years from now, but considering the recent trends when it comes to series, don’t be surprised if the five-movie order is cut down to three – especially since this first chapter is far from “Fantastic”.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” gets a D+.
Running Time: 133 min.