Reviewing movies like Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them can be frustrating. On the one hand, you get to see one of the most anticipated movies before everyone else. But then you can’t discuss it with anyone for fear of accidentally spoiling your friends. It is incredibly hard to review this movie without mentioning spoilers, but I’m going to try.
Fantastic Beasts tells the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist who travels to New York City in 1926 whilst carrying a magically expanded suitcase that houses a multitude of magical creatures. Due to a serious of unfortunate blunders, some of the creatures escape. With the help of Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Muggle (I’m sorry, No-Maj) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogel), Newt has to get them back into his case before the Magical Congress of the USA (MACUSA) catches up to him for breaking several wizarding laws.
I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter franchise and have a giant pile of books and useless merchandise at home to prove it. But I found myself extremely frustrated by the lack of plot and characterisation in Fantastic Beasts. JK Rowling has always been a master at world building and details, but sometimes she gets so bogged down with details that the writing suffers. And that’s the same problem with Fantastic Beasts.
It actually reminded me of the very first Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It had way too much exposition and world building and not enough plot, and I’m a little disappointed to see that Rowling’s writing has changed very little. For fans like me who may perhaps be a little obsessive about details, be warned: plot holes are everywhere.
The first half of the movie has more in common with classic caper movies, where Newt takes part in what basically amounts to a game of magical Pokemon Go. This is funny for about the first ten minutes, after which it gets very boring, very quickly. However, the beasts are, as the title suggests, fantastic. Before watching the movie, I read the book again to refresh my memory on the creatures mentioned in there, and it was especially fun to see how many of them I could spot.
There’s also been quite a bit written about how the movie successfully tackles the big themes of tolerance, bigotry and fear. Unfortunately, I disagree. Like much of Rowling’s writing, these themes were painted with too broad a brush and were treated a little superficially. Additionally, in some scenes the dialogue was so obvious and predictable that it might as well have had a big neon sign that screamed “INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT POINT HERE” pointing at the screen.
And while I’ve always liked the characterisation in the original Potter books, all of the characters here felt very flat. Newt is basically a magical but bland Doctor Doolittle, and the Goldstein sisters bored me to tears. They were two-dimensional and just weren’t convincing or interesting as characters.
Even Colin Farrell, who plays MACUSA Auror Percival Graves, didn’t deliver his usual compelling performance. (That said, he does have the best hair and the best coat EVER. It might actually be a better coat than Sherlock’s!)
The exception to this was Ezra Miller, whose performance as the tortured soul Credence Barebone was vulnerable, yet chillingly creepy. In this respect, he reminded me a lot of Gotham‘s Robin Lord Taylor, down to his incredibly expressive eyes brimming with barely suppressed emotion. He completely outdid any expectations I had of him, which makes me even more excited now to see him in the upcoming Justice League.
It hurts me to say that the movie left me with a bad taste in my mouth because I so, so badly wanted to like it. Even though there were things that I loved, the bad outweighed the good. That said, it did leave me wanting more, and my loyalty to the franchise is so strong that you might as well call me a Hufflepuff (NB: Pottermore sorted me into Ravenclaw).
It’s still a rollicking good romp if you’re looking for a bit of escapism from the actual bigotry and atmosphere of fear in our world right now, and will no doubt make lots and lots of money at the box office. However, given that I think the casting of Johnny Depp as the dark wizard Grindelwald is a mistake, I can only hope that Rowling stays true to the spirit of the franchise and injects some excitement back into the remaining four movies.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in Singapore today. Tell us your thoughts on our Fantastic Beasts review!