Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Review (***)

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An adequate but incredibly underwhelming extension of the Harry Potter universe, this J.K. Rowling-penned follow-up does less to excite about four more of these movies (yes, four) and more to suggest they’re likely to leave all but the most devout Potter fans beset with the ever-common franchise fatigue.

In 1926, wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) visits New York City, where one of the titular critters escapes from his magical suitcase, sparking an incident that not only spans the Atlantic but also the line between wizard and Muggle (or as they’re called in the U.S., No-Maj). Teaming with No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Newt must recapture his escaped beasts, while facing off against a long-percolating evil threatening to destroy the city.

Firstly, Potter fans are probably going to lap this up regardless of its actual quality; it’s more of the Potter world with scattered references to the exterior universe and characters therein, so it’ll be an easy enough proposition to them. More casual fans are likely to be a lot less forgiving of what is ultimately a depressingly safe, mild tentpole with a lot less personality than you might expect.

For one, New York City doesn’t really feel like a character here as it probably should. Despite decent period costume design, the city surrounding the characters doesn’t feel alive and is visually replicated as drab and colourless for the most part. Then there’s Eddie Redmayne’s gratingly foppish protagonist, who mumbles through most of his lines and plays second fiddle to a far more enjoyable dynamic between Jacob and his love interest, Queenie (Alison Sudol).

It is a film so keen to establish a world that any notion of conflict, or much of plot, is pretty much out the window for the first half, yet even as it doubles down on character banter, it still feels fairly malnourished in terms of character development. After one viewing, will casuals be able to name any characters other than Newt and Queenie? It’s doubtful.

The threat that inevitably shows itself is also rather disappointing, feeling torn from one of any unimaginative superhero flicks of the past few years, and veteran Potter director David Yates drags the action out to interminable lengths without really getting visually interesting.

So, what did it do to actually earn three stars, then? Well, Colin Farrell is great as bureaucrat wizard Percival Graves, and though their parts are far too small, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman and Jon Voight bring much class to the pic. The beasts, especially the duck-hedgehog creature with a penchant for stealing jewelry, are generally entertaining enough, even if you’ll probably expect more to be made of them given the title and everything.

Look, at a basic level, the movie will entertain more than it doesn’t. It is a fine if boringly fine production that takes no risks and feels oddly disjointed when you look back at it. The humour, performances and visuals are all inferior to pretty much any of the last six Potter films, and the fact that there’s four more of these rubbed-stamped on a conveyor belt is extremely disheartening. Remember that feeling of dread when you realised you’d have to sit through another four Twilight movies? I gave the first Twilight three stars too, y’know.

***

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is in cinemas now

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