Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The first "Fantastic Beast" that we see is an adorable, furry, platypus-like creature with a penchant for all things shiny. You'd think that collecting necklaces, rings, and coins galore to store in his little kangaroo pouch would satisfy the little guy, but no. Before it has picked up its prize it is already desperately thinking about where to find the next one. I can't think of a more apt metaphor for the making of this movie than that. A big studio unhappy with plenty and insisting on more. That's how Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them feels. It's just more. An addition to a perfectly wrapped up series designed to do no more than to generate a little more cash flow. That's not to say that what is delivered isn't entertaining or not worthwhile for fans, it just feels like a neat diversion rather than a necessary addition to the series.
Our hero, Newt Scamander, played by the very pretty Eddie Redmayne, in a disappointingly bored, meek performance, travels to 1920s New York from his various adventures amassing a magical suitcase full of mysterious creatures (for reasons we don't ever really learn). As soon as he's off the boat is when the creatures start escaping from the case and wreaking havoc across the city. Assembling an oddball group of companions including witch Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and friendly baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Newt must recapture all of his creatures to ensure their safety; a classic adventure movie plot that promises fun and mischief in the course of two hours. If only it could have been that, instead we're left with a humorless subplot that takes away too much of the screen time.
A sinister dark void of a monster is flying around, destroying structures and murdering No-Majs (American version of Muggles), and we never really learn why it's here either. A considerable amount of focus is taken away from the fun and given to this dark and depressing subplot, which features a crooked politician, a newspaper mogul, an abusive mother and her abused children, a murderous spirit, and tons of wizard rights politics. It ultimately leads to a really silly plot twist and an ending that feels like it should have come 15 minutes earlier.
That being said, the visuals in this movie are a genuine delight to see. The use of 3D is the most impressive I have seen in years without being full of stuff flying at the screen. All of the animals, from the cute and cuddly to the lumbering giants, are brought to life beautifully. Some are more imaginative than others, though. Most are just variations on creatures we already have, like a rhino that injects lava through its horn or a big blue wasp that secretes a juice that I guess can wipe memories. I say I guess because many, many times things seem to betray their own logic in favor of convenience.
Wizardry can sometimes make fifty objects float at once while completing complicated tasks, but rarely is it an option to use that power to help capture the animals. One being that looks an awful lot like just a sloth is set up as being completely invisible except in rare circumstances. We see its invisible form once and with one quick camera cut we and the characters can see it without any explanation. A gigantic dragon is captured in a little teacup by somebody that is unaware of its shape shifting abilities, yet she is still the one to come up with the plan to encase it in there. The magic suitcase that can swallow a huge rhinoceros and contains multiple ecosystems has a tough time fitting Dan Fogler's wide frame the first time he attempts to enter. Anything that can happen to conveniently get our characters out of sticky situations does, and it just has to be accepted that way.
I wish Fantastic Beasts would have reveled in its exciting premise of a wizard in New York City chasing down various magical beings and saved the more sinister plot points for later entries in this sure-to-be-a-hit series, given it has already been set up as a franchise. Instead, mixing the two together weighs down the runtime significantly and comes close to ruining the fun to be had marveling at the gorgeous creatures and being entertained by the well done 3D. Hopefully (like most origin stories) the setup is now out of the way and can lead to a more freeing sequel that doesn't have to worry about building a whole world.