The return into the Potter-verse has come with curiosity and hesitation with a hint of excitement, but the excitement was quickly tempered for me as the overly CGI’d spin-off ended up spinning until it didn’t know which direction to go by the first act. Director David Yates returned to the Potter-verse after having done the last four films for the original franchise and has returned to direct Academy Award-winner Eddie Redmayne as the awkward Hufflepuff newt Scamander in his journey through 1930’s New York in a time long before Harry Potter or his parents were ever even conceived. It’s a film that feels like your watching a student with endless potential throw it all away to be a rapper, but in this case the film tried too hard to be a 3D blockbuster instead of just a great movie.
The magizoologist Newt Scamander (Redmayne) is an adorable, mumbling heroine with a heart of gold, and knack for casually going about his life with or without Muggles. Just seeing him on screen makes you kind of feel as fuzzy and warm inside as the creatures he takes care of, but that’s just not enough to keep me interested in what ends up feeling like two movies fused into one once we see Colin Ferrell and company steal their scenes and produce that magic most of us got hooked on once we saw The Prisoner of Askaban. Seeing Scamander interact with anyone, including his beasts and lovable creatures, is nice for a little while, but unlike the Harry Potter films of the past, we don’t get as attached as we once did with a Dobby or a Buckbeak. Unlike Dobby or Buckbeak, the creatures don’t feel or look real, let alone like they belong in a fantasy film such as Fantastic Beasts. Instead, it felt as if James Cameron or Guillermo del Toro decided to give Warner Bros. their sketches from Avatar or Pan’s Labyrinth instead.
One thing the original Harry Potters also did remarkably was fuse live-action practical creatures and characters with CGI that actually still holds up today. What was missing with Fantastic Beasts was that care or attention to detail in the CGI department. It felt like I was watching a rough cut of Night at the Museum more than Harry Potter and that’s never good. But to shed some positively on this disappointing review, I am going to talk about the cast and the remarkable job they did with what they were given. But you’ll be surprised to know Redmayne and his light eyes and quaffed hair didn’t do it for me at all even though this is supposed to be his movie. It was Colin Ferrell playing Percival Graves, Catherin Waterson as Porpentina Goldstein, Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, and Ezra Miller as Credence. What all these actors brought was a depth and natural fit into the Harry Potter world for the better, but while their acting was ideal for their characters, they weren’t enough to make a jumbled script less chaotic.
There’s a reason I was not excited about Yates saying he’d love to take on the next five Fantastic Beasts films and those reasons showed up in the worst ways. Directors shouldn’t stay on franchises for too long or their work gets stale and stagnant. The other glaring wound on this film was the overcrowding of fascinating mythologies and the lack of care put into those specific mythologies when they’d show up. The Harry Potter films were perfectly executed slow burns when needed up until the third movie when the tone shifted dramatically, but it gave the audience time to marinate in what we were seeing as well as buy into the fact witches and wizards could be a real thing. Fantastic Beasts definitely has laughs and moments that make you see why you fell in love with this franchise before, but with it’s overcrowded plot line that has more endings that the extended edition of Return of the King, I don’t see many Potter faithfuls getting their money’s worth this time around. If anything, I’d like to see another director’s hand in the pot with the sequels and maybe a title change because the Beasts aren’t what keep you watching as much as the title would lead on.