ReelBob: ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’
By Bob Bloom
It may be easy to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but spinning off a new franchise from a very beloved one is a challenge for any magician.
Thus is the problem with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
The shadow of the “Harry Potter” world looms so large over this new feature, directed by David Yates from a screenplay by J.K. Rowling, that it nearly obscures the entire project.
“Fantastic Beasts” is set in 1920s New York and stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, a young wizard from England who is lugging along a very special suitcase.
Newt is a collector of rare and endangered magical animals. Consider him a wizarding Jane Goodall.
Newt has come to the city to find a specific creature, but he immediately gets into trouble when one of his charges escapes from the suitcase and runs amok.
Newt, then, has run afoul of the city’s wizard establishment, which has laws about magical behavior. These folks keep a low profile as to not frighten the city’s regular residents.
This being New York, though, I doubt anyone would have given them a second look — even in the 1920s.
“Fantastic Beasts” gets off to a ragged start. Redmayne’s Newt is a rather uncomfortable and shy individual. He slouches, fails to look anyone in the eye and mumbles his dialogue so, at times, you can’t understand what he is saying.
This performance is the Academy Award-winner’s weakest since his debacle in “Jupiter Ascending.”
The crux of the movie deals with the search for an ancient malevolent entity, which is something that is unleashed when a young wizard tries to hide his or her true nature and suppress his or her powers.
When it is released, it causes destruction and death. And one is running loose in the city.
The best parts of the movie, though, have nothing to do with the main story.
It’s when Newt takes his nonmagical, new friend, Jacob Kowalski (a funny and lively Dan Fogler) into the suitcase for a tour of the sanctuary where Newt keeps the creatures he has gathered and saved.
These CGI beasties, which come in all sizes and shapes, are enchanting and imaginative — more so than the rest of the story. They fly, soar, bound and crawl — and most work their way into your heart.
The same, with few exceptions, cannot be said for the main characters.
Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein, a demoted magical officer, is stiff and bland.
Colin Farrell as the devious Percival Graves is a rather lackadaisical villain.
Besides Fogler, Alison Sudol as Tina’s mind-reading and man-crazy sister, Queenie, adds some spark and personality to the movie.
The special effects are impressive, as they should be in a film of this genre.
Overall, though, much is lacking in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The characters lack the charisma that drew fans to Harry, Hermione, Ron and others in the “Harry Potter” universe.
And, perhaps, that was because we first met them on the printed page and were familiar with them before they appeared on screen.
This new franchise is supposed to be comprised of five movies. Consider “Fantastic Beasts” an awkward introduction. Perhaps when we get to know Newt better, we will embrace him more closely.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
2 stars out of 4
(PG-13), fantasy and action violence