Few people genuinely dislike Harry Potter. It’s a largely beloved franchise by all ages. Even when the idea of a spinoff seems highly illogical, (like adapting what was essentially a compendium of monsters from the Potter universe into five films) it’s hard not to get excited when the usual Pavlovian cues show up: such as parts of the theme and references to the Potter films. The first film in this new series, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (How does one even go about naming a sequel to this?) has a fun world with many possibilities; but is ultimately bogged down because it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures. His goal is to free one of his more majestic creatures, one bearing a strong resemblance to the Hippogriff from “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” to the mountains of Arizona.
Unfortunately, he accidentally takes the case of one nomaj (a non-magical person, the American muggle) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), with Kowalski accidentally taking Scamander’s. The creatures inevitably get loose.
Meanwhile, there is a separate plot going on with Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and Credence, (Ezra Miller) in which Graves appears to be gaining intel on Second Salem, an organization of anti-wizardry activists dedicated to having witches and wizards hunted down.
They’re led by the nasty orphanage owner Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) who abuses the children she’s taking care of. The full nature of Credence and Graves’ relationship is not disclosed until the end of the movie, which is part of the film’s larger flaw.
No fault can be found in the acting. Everyone delivers, even Eddie Redmayne: while he is overrated, he is also likely over-hated. Redmayne demonstrates a comfort for this role, and an aptitude for the material, ergo it is a shame that his character is boiled down to ‘quirky and likes animals.’
The standouts are probably Fogler as Kowalski and Miller as Credence. Miller, despite being much older than the character may imply, has a look on his face communicating the deep wounds he has suffered; and Fogler offers a straight man (which in this case, is a character meant to serve as a surrogate for the audience) that is lovable, funny and colorful.
The appearance of Johnny Depp, however, raises some concern.
Depp is known for chewing the scenery and making the films he’s in insufferable because of that, and his appearance in “Beasts” does nothing to dissuade this.
The next question one might ask would be on franchises and the future of self-contained stories. It now seems harder and harder for major studio franchises to simply end, especially if they’re profitable. “Lord of the Rings” wasn’t able to simply fade into legend; neither will “Star Wars” be allowed to die once they’ve finished this third trilogy, and now Potter has joined the ranks.
There appears to be the workings of a cinematic universe as well, as “Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them” does not offer a linear plot, and a five-film franchise seems like it would be just jumping through history referencing the primary Potter films. Is that the way movies are made now?
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is by no means awful, not by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn’t great either. It is representative of the problems our culture has with cinematic complacency.