Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a visually enchanting return to the Wizarding World of JK Rowling but it merely exists to set-up a franchise.

It’s 1926 and Newt Scamander has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident… were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.

Meanwhile in Australia

Rebooting a beloved franchise has always been difficult. Star Wars The Force Awakens is basically a shot by shot re-imagining of a New Hope, but still managed to be entertaining because it introduced new great characters to make us excited for the future in a familiar world.

Others don’t do so well. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them falls prey to the studio exercise of franchise building.

In fairness, it does have a couple magical tricks up its sleeve.

The first act promised much – as Newt’s suitcase gets accidentally swapped with Jacob, you get two interesting perspectives. The magizoologist has to adopt in a new country with an antagonistic view of magicians while the aspiring baker has to grapple with the evidence of a new world wildly different from his mundane existence.

Eddie Redmayne, with his inherent awkwardness, is fittingly casted as Newt Scamander. The rest of the attractive cast also try their best to fill in new characters. However, these talents are underserved as the movie has a different intention than what it originally promises.

Yes, you are introduced to fantastic beasts nicely rendered in CGI, but eventually it becomes clear that they and their floppy haired caretaker is just a distraction. The plot meanders, amusing you temporarily with Newt recapturing a few beasts with newfound acquaintances, until it reveals itself as a set-up. This movie is not really about a man child and his suitcase of smuggled animals. It’s about Dumbledore’s former BFF (and unrequited love) that’s undoubtedly the focus of the new franchise.

It doesn’t help that Yates crams in as much world building as it can to set-up the rules for the next installments. Bureaucracy, prejudice, and an administration that’s always one step away from obliterating itself. The New York setting provides a new facet to Rowling’s re-imagining of  a hidden magical society – art deco, 1920’s fashion layering – but its not so much as a place but a collection of set pieces.

The result is a patchy tale with little story and dull characters. We get little about the fantastic animals that this movie is suppose to be about that they register as nothing more than curios. Worse, it trades the charismatic Colin Farrell for…well you’ll find out soon enough.

There is much to enjoy here if you are a Harry Potter fan who just want to revisit the Wizarding World of JK Rowling. However, it’s not hard to feel cheated by a movie that’s supposed to be about fantastic beasts but becomes a prologue to what will eventually be the greatest duel in the Wizarding history. After four movies of course.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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