Newest 'Harry Potter' Film Doesn't Quite Live Up to Its Hype
By David Lynch
I was one of the seemingly few who wasn’t particularly enamored by the idea of a new franchise set in what can only be referred to now as a Harry Potter cinematic universe.
Having read the Harry Potter series and watched the previous eight movies more than a few times, I was perfectly satisfied with the universe J.K. Rowling created. The breadth, even before the advent of Pottermore, was enriching enough that I was content with even the more ambiguous details of Rowling’s world.
After watching “Fantastic Beasts” – the first of a reported five films that will attempt to turn said ambiguity into canon – I don’t find myself counting the days until the sequel.
If you can get past the messy tangle of narratives and frustratingly expendable characters, “Fantastic Beasts” does add some new things to the wizarding world many are so familiar with.
“Fantastic Beasts” is visually spectacular, but the film suffers from being perhaps the toughest to follow of all nine movies in the universe. While it has its moments of grandeur, a novel would have been the best way to showcase Rowling’s signature ambitious storytelling with a multitude of storylines that intersect in confusing ways.
After a Firebolt-esque start, the movie slows down to the speed of a Cleansweep Eleven broomstick. The first act is exceptionally well done, focusing on Newt Scamander and what he’s hiding in his suitcase. An early sequence in a New York bank is hilarious and moves along swiftly. But some characters are clearly unnecessary and as a result, the motives and stories of others are not fleshed out. It’s almost as if Rowling was so concerned about writing a predictable story that she offered several plotlines in the hopes that at least one would be compelling.
“Fantastic Beasts” does introduce new themes that initially appear to be much darker stories when compared to the other Potter films, including Muggle – sorry, “No Maj” – paranoia and the fragile line that keeps wizarding society under the covers.
But when you remember the previous Harry Potter movies centered on a terrorist with no regard for the lives of schoolchildren, “Fantastic Beasts” isn’t incredibly provocative.
David Yates, who also directed the last four Potter entries, provides an aesthetic much like the one fans fell in love with – trademark visual cues like the logo hovering ominously through the clouds and moving photos in newspapers.
The varied, imaginative creature design is also top-notch – the titular beasts provide memorable sequences of their own that make for the film’s highlights.
In the lead role, Eddie Redmayne is a vehicle of confident naiveté, his nervous smile and even his gait rounds out a fantastic turn. When the film isn’t pretending to make protagonists out of other characters, Redmayne’s scenes steal the show.
Katherine Waterston also effectively embraces her role as a former Auror who has fallen from grace, conveying a quietly determined performance opposite Redmayne’s clumsy Scamander.
Tight, cohesive narratives helped make the Potter films so strong. The main problem with “Fantastic Beasts” is that it isn’t sure where to focus its storytelling efforts. Because of that, it’s tough to walk away with the same sense of wonder generated by the stronger Potter entries.
David Lynch is an award-winning film critic.