(Originally posted 8th December 2016 - spoilers)
Okay. Let's be clear; I'm not exactly a Harry Potter fan boy and the idea of expanding the universe doesn't fill me with joy. But, let's look at the positives; this story allows us to get away from the confines of the Hogwarts storyline and investigate the world of wizardry a bit wider. The film is written by J.K. Rowling, so you can be sure that it will be in keeping with the style of the franchise. It's got money behind it so it can really let loose in creating a magical world.
Does any of that pay off? No. Perhaps not surprisingly, without the clear narrative of Harry Potter to pull you through, the story is meandering and slow. The Fantastical Beasts of the title are simply a McGuffin, and, though fairly nicely realised, they are just there for a bit of comic relief and to set up unnecessary action sequences. The real protagonist is Newt Scamander, but unfortunately he has no character arc and is actually fairly pointless in the plot.
The plot, such that it is, centres around some sort of ministry of magic trying to find a bad guy and the resulting internal conflicts that occur. For a brief moment I thought this was setting up a kind of civil war plotline that would maybe be developed in later films but that never paid off. I also thought that they were doing a good job of not painting all the good guys and bad guys in a simple black and white but then it turned out that it was just confused writing. Colin Farrell's character Percival Graves seemed to be straddling the good/bad divide and I thought it might even be going into an allegory for the civil rights movement but no, it turned he was just a different bad guy. And if you think that sentence didn't make sense, I assure you the film was no better.
This story is where we should have been focused but it plays second fiddle to Scamander's destinationless journey because... well, I don't know why, really. If they'd made more of this plot line (enough so that it was engaging and made sense) then they could have used Scamander as a side character – the kooky expert who is brought in to help. That might have worked.
Don't get me wrong, Eddie Redmayne absolutely nails the character and is by far the best thing in the film. He makes a potentially weak and simpering character into someone with a genuine sense of personality. He is one of the greatest actors of his generation and I look forward to seeing what he's going to produce over the next decade.
The other actors are all just fine but no one really looks like they care. There's just a lot of nothingness around this film. Production side is good; it evokes the period setting with costume and set – the creatures are kind of cool in a stupid fantasy made up creatures kind of way. Again, none of it really makes sense or matters in any way but it looks alright.
The most curious thing about this film is who is it for exactly? It's too plodding and boring to be for kids, but too nonsensical for adults. My conclusion is that this film is aimed at 22 year olds who were fans of Harry Potter. And that is a mistake. There is not enough Harry Potter in this story to keep those people hanging on with nostalgia and it doesn't create enough of its own world to pull them in. There are plans to continue building this franchise. I'm sure this film has done well enough at the box office to justify a second film but that sequel has to offer something better than this if they want to get it going any further.
I'd love to have more to say about this and really give it a good kicking but there just isn't anything to work with. Nothing of any note happens. The film just sits there, existing, but achieving nothing. And I don't really know why.
Oh, and I'm pretty sure there was a scene that implied that Newt Scamander was sexually abused at Hogwarts by a teacher named Albus Dumbledore. You've got to wonder if that's going to pay off later.
The whole thing is just very... blah.
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