‘Fantastic Beasts’ a Comforting but Flawed Return to Harry Potter

fantastic_beasts_and_where_to_find_them_posterI mean, at least it’s better than “The Hobbit” or “Star Wars” prequels…

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is the first of five (five!!) films of the spin-off prequel Harry Potter series that follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the author of the animal guide students at Hogwarts will eventually use. Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell also star as David Yates, who helmed the final four “Potter” films, directs.

Much like “The Hobbit” series, I went into this just hoping it wouldn’t ruin both my childhood and a treasured franchise. I love the Harry Potter films and (unfortunately) believe I will never have a more magical (only slight pun intended) experience in a movie theater than when I first sat watching “The Sorcerer’s Stone.” The good news is unlike “The Hobbit” trilogy, “Fantastic Beasts” seems like it is a film with purpose outside of a payday; unfortunately there is lots of room for improvement.

The thing many people will care and hope for is does this film have the same feel and style as the original Harry Potter series, especially since it shares no characters? The answer is for the most part yes. The beginning of the film has the same atmosphere are Harry Potter’s muggle world (only here in America we call non-wizards “No-Maj”) and seeing people cast spells does provide a sense of familiar comfort. Self-folding clothes and automatically poured drinks all remind you of the earlier films, and it is a fun time.

However where the film loses itself is in its finale. The Harry Potter films all had a sense of peril and stakes, but really until the final film everything still felt contained and “grounded.” Here, the climax is overstuffed, with a giant black cloud flying around New York City destroying every building in sight. It’s less “Harry Potter” and more “Man of Steel,” and just like with that and many other mainstream summer blockbusters nowadays, big explosions can only entertain for so long.

As Newt Scamander, Eddie Redmayne does his Eddie Redmayne thing, quietly and awkwardly mumbling and finding more in common with his creatures than fellow humans. Colin Farrell is the film’s maybe-villain who is put in charge of investigating Newt’s visit to America. He is an interesting and dark character, bringing some gravitas to the screen.

The production design here is fantastic, immersing you both into the wizarding world of J. K. Rowling (who wrote the script) as well as 1926 New York. Cars, banks and street signs all put you into that world, and seeing as we have four more films of this series to look forward to [eye roll], I hope we get to see other cities explored.

The biggest problem with “Fantastic Beasts” is the type of film it wants to be, and the tone(s) it is trying to convey. The Harry Potter films were praised for getting progressively darker, but they committed to that change. Half of “Beasts” is colorful and cute animals, the other half is an awkward, uncomfortably dark tale involving Ezra Miller (normally one of Hollywood’s most cheerful and charismatic young actors) getting abused by his witch-hunting mother. It may have been Yates and Rowling’s intentions to make us uneasy, but we paid to see fun and adventurous magic, not physical and mental abuse to children.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” sets up its prequel world well and I will for sure be interested to see where it goes next (as for how they will milk this into five films remains to be seen). It isn’t as bad as it could’ve been, nor as good as I wanted it to be, but my childhood wasn’t ruined and at times I got glimpses into why I fell in love with movies as a kid, so that was pretty cool.

Critics Rating: 6/10

Warner Bros. Pictures

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