fantastic beasts

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Director: David Yates

Year: 2016

Genre: Fantasy

Sitting in a packed theater on Thursday amongst an audience of almost exclusively millennials, the enthusiasm was contagious. Most came in couples and large groups, all hoping to share the nostalgia of their child- and teenage-hoods and remember the magical adventure growing up alongside Harry. As with its eight predecessors, the crowd greeted the beginning title with applause, but unlike the original films, what followed was uncharted territory, a characteristic that became a hindrance to the enjoyment of the film. A confused, semi-episodic, illogical mess followed, packaged in the whimsy and glitz of J.K. Rowling’s colorful wizarding world.

FANTASTIC BEASTS director David Yates yet again struggles to tell his story in a coherent manner, randomly alluding to characters we haven’t yet met and rushing past important visuals critical to understanding the rules of the world. But while the last four Harry Potter movies could count on many audience members having read the books, FANTASTIC BEASTS has no such advantage. Yates has leaned heavily on this crutch since the fifth and worst film of the series, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX.

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Almost as bad as Umbridge’s interior decorating skills. Almost.

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Before Yates’s adulteration of the series, the first three films evolved seamlessly, taking ample time to spread out and become comfortable in their own world. HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE is a prime example of this, as the film lets the audience experience the discovery of all the aspects of the wizarding world at the same time as Harry, while propelling the story with a somewhat simple mystery: Who is trying to steal the Philosopher’s Stone? We aren’t even introduced to the Minister for Magic until the third installment of the original series, and the Minister does not play a particularly large role until the fifth. FANTASTIC BEASTS affords no such opportunity for the audience to follow along.

Sure, we know about wands and Apparition (basically teleportation), but in the particulars of the wizarding world of 1926 New York City we are completely ignorant. As the film begins, little context is given, so while we know, for example, that magical creatures are banned in the city, we have no information about how long this ban has been in existence. And though a relationship between Grindelwald and beasts in NYC is mentioned, we’re given no further information about his activities. This is especially important because Grindelwald’s infiltration of the Magical Congress is exposed at the end of the movie, but that in itself raises many pertinent questions: What was Grindelwald doing in Europe before he came to the U.S.? How long had he impersonated Graves (a member of the Congress close to the President) and how did he manage to do that? Even a question as simple as, “Why does a wizard have to take a boat to travel if he can apparate?” is never even addressed.

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And then there’s this atrocity

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The only irreproachable aspect of the film was the extraordinary costume design by Colleen Atwood. Each costume seamlessly (heh) blended wizarding clothing with 1920s-era style for every character with perfect attention to personality. The rest of the creative efforts brought together in FANTASTIC BEASTS were all passable but none particularly shone. Eddie Redmayne’s performance as protagonist Newt Scamander felt like a watered-down version of his portrayal of Stephen Hawking, the score felt like an Elfman copycat, and the cinematography lacked ingenuity. Most aspects of FANTASTIC BEASTS can be described as merely fine.

It is difficult to credit the confused qualities of the film to any single aspect of production since there are several possible culprits. FANTASTIC BEASTS is J.K. Rowling’s first attempt at writing a screenplay, and she herself has commented that she was learning on the job. It seems doubtful, however, since story and plot are areas where Rowling always excelled in her novels. Perhaps it can be attributed to Yates’s poor visions, but it is more likely that FANTASTIC BEASTS suffers from the ultimate Unforgivable Curse: leadership by Warner Brothers.

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Where beloved series come to die. RIP.

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Similar to BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, the narrative of FANTASTIC BEASTS was pushed and pulled in too many directions for the audience to focus on or care about any single character or event. It was like standing on the side of the road, watching many cars go by but never actually getting to ride in any of them and share their perspective. FANTASTIC BEASTS sorely lacks the the earnest investment in the characters that made the Harry Potter series so special. My fellow lifelong Potter fans will not find the invigorating prequel series they were hoping to find in FANTASTIC BEASTS, merely a sad, American echo of the original. But don’t forget! We’re in for four more of these babies, complete with artificial groundwork already blatantly plopped into this first installment, and you can be assured that under Yates’s planned direction, none will escape these ongoing issues. Whoop.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Nicole Barraza Keim is a graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts and fervent Trekkie. Her passion is promoting positive change in media by creating content about all types of women kicking ass! To keep up with Nicole’s reviews, follow her on Letterboxd at the link above.

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