Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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I’ll be perfectly honest – I am a huge Harry Potter fan, but I am also someone who felt that the series ended well with the final book and film. J.K. Rowling created an iconic world that will live on for decades to come – and despite being a literary genius, Rowling herself also seems to be unable to resist the allure of the almighty dollar, because her wizarding world has not been put to rest, and is in the middle of a bit of a comeback, but not quite the one it deserves. With the release of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Rowling retconned some of the most important moments in the series, and while I admit that Harry Potter on stage is an alluring idea, I just can’t get behind it. I also struggled to get behind a spin-off series, and even if the concept was good, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was never going to be the same as the original series. The film itself was not terrible at all – but it certainly was a far-cry from the magic of the original Harry Potter series, and it just didn’t have something that the others had – literal, cinematic magic.

I’ll state it outright – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fine film. It is certainly in no way a bad film, and I did enjoy it. But it was not even close to being as wonderful and intriguing as the Harry Potter films. It often felt like a parody of Harry Potter at times, and while it was still a wildly enjoyable film, it was lacking the spark that made its predecessors so iconic and magical. I can attribute this to the involvement of David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter films, which many people often feel are very different to the previous four films that captivated audiences and gained the boy wizard his massive legions of fans. Here’s the thing – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets had Chris Columbus’ assured, family-friendly warmth. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has Alfonso Cuarón’s technically impressive innovation. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had Mike Newell’s aptness for character development. The rest of the films were all directed by David Yates, who is a capable, but unimpressive director. There isn’t really anything about him as a director that strikes me as being particularly interesting. He gets the job done, but he doesn’t add anything new to the material. I would be lying if I said his involvement in the rest of the franchise does not excite me. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them needed to bring someone new to the series – I would have adored to see the likes of Richard Ayoade, or to bring back Cuarón, who directed arguably the best of the Harry Potter films. Yates just isn’t interesting.

Moving beyond this issue, the casting is also somewhat problematic. There comes an inherent problem with casting a well-known actor, who has already won an Academy Award (the discussion as to whether or not it was deserved is for another day) – the fact that people already know what to expect. I am not a big fan of Eddie Redmayne. I find him somewhat false and artificial, and I wasn’t sure if he would be able to charm enough to play a character like Newt Scamander. However, to his credit, he has never been more likable and endearing. However, he was not excellent, and he was merely good. He starts out the film like a waif-like being, without much purpose – and even throughout the film, he just doesn’t do much. He is certainly likable, but he doesn’t strike me as a particularly intelligent character – rather, he’s just a sweet and lovable young man, rather than the cerebral character that I expected.

No one in this film was particularly outstanding, and there wasn’t a single performance that really stood out to me. Katherine Waterston steps into her first big-budget film, and I have been a fan of her for a few years now, so to see her getting more recognition and success is wonderful. Dan Fogler seems to still be trying to be taken seriously as an actor. Good for him. There are pointless cameos from Jon Voight and some others. Ezra Miller has a terrible haircut, and Samantha Morton is a half-baked villain without much going on behind her. She reminds me of the crazy church ladies in The Witches of Eastwick – the only thing is, in that film, they were funny and effective villains. Here, Morton was just annoying. The only great performance in this film comes from Colin Farrell, who I have always thought is an excellent actor, but he just choices roles that make him look like an overly macho action star. Between In Bruges, and The Lobster from earlier this year, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, he is becoming a very talented and valuable actor.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a strange film, because I am not quite sure where this stands compared to the rest of the Harry Potter films. It is certainly not a bad film, but it just lacks something special. One reason why I felt the Harry Potter films, particularly the first four, are so beloved are because they were clearly made with love and care, and careful attention was paid to creating something truly unique and wonderful. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them often just felt like a cash-grab – and while it certainly does not stack up to other inferior franchise reboots or re-imaginings or spin-offs, it certainly fails to live up to the legacy of its iconic predecessors.

Perhaps I am biased – I grew up watching the Harry Potter films. Many of us did, and they helped define our childhoods. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them just doesn’t have the same spark – and I don’t really see many people creating an emotional connection to this series like they did with the Harry Potter series. I really doubt there will be tears shed at the conclusion of this five-film series, and I don’t think this series will have any intention of being special. J.K. Rowling is an icon of literature, so I want to give her the benefit of the doubt here, and not accuse her of pointlessly trying to make money off her name and her characters. I want to believe that she knows what she is doing, and that she has a plan to make this a special series (although, the involvement of Formerly Great Actor and Current Walking Parody of Himself Johnny Depp does make me wonder whether or not Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has any intention of being great, and not just drawing on a famous name in the villain role. I will hope for the best)

To its credit, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a good film. It wasn’t amazing, but it was pretty good, and I enjoyed it. It may have been slightly overlong, and it did drag dreadfully in the second act. But it did have some extraordinary effects, and it did manage to veer away enough from the Harry Potter films to be seen as different – such things as the excellent music (from veteran composer James Newton Howard) and character development actually made Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them somewhat enjoyable, even if I did wish it was better.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is never going to be Harry Potter. It is impossible – and while it is better than many similar franchises, it certainly is going to struggle to be seen as being as great as previous films. I think we just have to live with the fact that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a thing now, and it is going to be making money for years now, so hopefully, in the quest for the almighty dollar, they know where this whole thing started, in a tiny coffee shop, where magic was quite literally created. J.K. Rowling is brilliant enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt. I’m going to give it to her, and I hope everyone else does as well – and hopefully, she’ll give us what we deserve. Here’s hoping this can become a great franchise, because it has the potential

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