I’ve seen a number of films since my recent short post on The Handmaiden. But I’m also slogging my way through the busiest time of the semester right now. And so, I bring you yet another truncated review. Up today: some of the many problems plaguing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Film: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Director: David Yates
Writers: J.K. Rowling
Primary Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Colin Farrell, Dan Folger, Ezra Miller, Alison Sudol, Samantha Morton, Carmen Ejogo, Jenn Murray, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Ron Perlman, Johnny Depp
US Release Date: 18 November 2016
I love Harry Potter as much as anyone, but no degree of fondness for the Wizarding World can cover up the fact that Fantastic Beasts is simply not a good movie. For what it’s worth, I went into Fantastic Beasts with little to no expectations whatsoever, but I still emerged from the theater disappointed. Between the god-awful fanfic that was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and this new, dull film, it would seem that Rowling isn’t too concerned with preserving any aura of quality around her brand. And that’s too bad, because—as I already mentioned—I really, really love her original series.
Highpoints: Colin Farrell’s face, Katherine Waterson’s face, and the residual Harry Potter emotions stirred by the opening music. Dan Fogler’s muggle character, Kowalski, is also an occasionally amusing stand-in for viewers, and Eddie Redmayne wears a nice coat. Beyond all that, there really is very little to latch onto in Yate’s and Rowling’s latest creation. Generally speaking, Yates gradually improved during his stretch of Harry Potter films, but Fantastic Beasts is a lackluster effort.
One of the biggest problems with the film is the way that it handles its characters. None of the heroes are given much of a history or developed beyond the surface. Viewers are not given a chance to feel any sort of intimate connection the film’s magical trio; unfortunately, the most interesting things about Newt, Porpetina, and Queenie are their (predictably) off-kilter first names. I’m extrapolating from personal experience a bit here, but the Harry Potter books and films have been incredibly successful, largely because they present audiences with well-developed characters that they care about and feel deep attachment to. Fantastic Beasts never does this. One expects that Rowling and Yates will imbue their protagonists with more backstory in the franchise’s future installments, but why waste the first one?
Fantastic Beasts boasts a talented cast, but they are rarely given a chance to do much with their abilities. As Porpetina, Waterson has a few decent moments, but she’s noticeably underutilized, and while Redmayne’s performance goes a long way toward making Newt Scamander at least mildly likable, he is still let down by Rowling’s script. Not only does Rowling fail to flesh-out Newt or do anything to make him particularly memorable, she also ham-fists something that smells terribly of forced heterosexual romantic attachment into his character arc (which is more of an almost imperceptibly curved line, but you get the idea).
That said, the actors who receive the worst treatment are Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller. Without spoiling certain (clumsily handled) plot details, each actor’s character ends up playing an (apparently) important part in the film’s story. However, neither actor is allowed to do much at all, and Rowling’s poorly-paced and frustratingly haphazard story renders both of them terribly forgettable.
Flat, poorly handled characters aside, a number of the problems with Fantastic Beasts can be traced back to the beasts themselves. Newt’s magical creatures are only tangentially connected to the film’s main plot and conflict, but Rowling and Yates devote so much time to them that viewers might be wrongly tricked into assuming they actually matter. Throughout the film, numerous long sequences are dedicated to a beast of some kind, but only one them feels anything less than unnecessarily forced into the film. Such sequences waste precious time—time that could have been used to add depth to characters or to tell the main story in an effective manner. Importance to the story aside, the beasts are also boring, which is an unacceptable offense in a film like this.
Together, Warner Brothers, Rowling, and Yates plan to shove four more Fantastic Beasts films down the public’s throats. From a financial standpoint, it’s hard to blame them. However—and while I acknowledge that the series could improve—I can’t help but worry that the clumsy, hollow drudgery will only continue. Yes, I’ll see the films (because I’m trash and Rowling owns me), but I don’t expect to enjoy them.
And I didn’t even talk about Rowling’s cringe-worthy attempt at a magic-as-queer metaphor OR the absolutely garbage moment in which Johnny Depp is introduced.
Why, Fantastic Beasts? Why? Please, don’t let this be The Hobbit movies all over again.
Until Next Time:
As of today, the films I’ve watched for the first time this November are Doctor Strange, Mad Max, Hacksaw Ridge, Arrival, Jackie, Moana, The Eyes of My Mother, Nocturnal Animals, and Evolution. Of those, Jackie is by far the best, and Hacksaw Ridge is probably the worst (although I certainly did not enjoy Doctor Strange and was noticeably underwhelmed by Moana).
I’m hoping to catch up on a lot of year-end movies during winter break. Ideally, I’ll post more regularly then too.