The magic has gone
I was a little late to the Harry Potter party. I didn’t like the first movie (a bunch of kids who didn’t know how to act participating in a big costume pageant), thought the second was really good, and then loved the third, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (a masterpiece).
The Harry movies got a little inconsistent after Azkaban, but the character rose above any of the mediocre moments delivered by director David Yates, who helmed the final four movies.
Yates returns to helm the next chapter in the Potter universe, a prequel called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the title of a textbook Harry studied at Hogwarts. The film takes place well before Harry’s time, as the world of wizardry comes to New York City in the 1920s.
Unfortunately, Beasts struggles with some of the same problems the first Harry Potter had. It’s a sometimes good-looking movie with a screenplay that never takes hold. It’s all over the place, with no real sense of purpose other than setting you up for future movies. It’s nothing but an overblown place-setter.
In place of Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry, we get Eddie Redmayne’s Newt, author of the infamous textbook and caretaker for a variety of “fantastic beasts.” The film opens with him coming to New York toting a suitcase with a variety of beasts bursting to get out.
Some of them do, indeed, escape and wreak havoc. Most notably a little platypus-looking thing called Niffler. There’s a fun moment when Newt opens his case, and drops into it like it contains a staircase. It reveals a vast home for the creatures inside, where he feeds them and plays.
And that’s it, really. The movie is a big setup for the occasional sequences involving Redmayne interacting with special effects. The creatures might look relatively cool, but none of them register as great characters that move the plot along.
Dan Fogler delivers what turns out to be the film’s best performance as Kowalski, a wannabe baker who winds up crossing paths with Newt while trying to get a bank loan. He’s a “muggle” dabbling in a non-muggle universe, and some of the film’s better moments come from Fogler’s reactions to crazy sights. He also has a little love story that’s sort of sweet.
Ezra Miller, DC’s current The Flash in cinemas, plays Credence Barebone, a suspiciously worried looking fellow who has a nasty secret. Colin Farrell is on hand as an agent for a secret society seeking witches and wizards, and he also has a big secret. Of course, as the press has already announced, Johnny Depp has a role in this new universe extension, one that will surely get bigger than his two-line appearance in this film.
There’s definite joy in simply seeing the extended Potter universe come to life again on film, even if Harry isn’t present, and the film itself is somewhat of a dud. There are many more to come, with Yates already announced as the director for four more chapters allegedly to be released in an every-other-year cycle. So there will be more movie wizardry, more beasts and another big wizard showdown. This time, it looks to be a younger Dumbledore facing off against Depp’s character, who is a precursor to Voldemort.
Wait a minute, talking about all that cool future stuff is distracting. The matter at hand is the current film, which is an ultimate bore. See it knowing that 1) things will probably get more exciting in future chapters and 2) Nifflers aren’t half as interesting as Hippogriffs.
Also, maybe Yates should take a break from directing these films and give somebody else a shot. Bringing back Alfonso Cuaron, director of Azkaban, would be a nice move. Yates has done well, but Beasts has proven that his approach might be getting a little stale.