Raleigh, N.C. — Well, a couple weeks ago I got the superhero nerds upset when I told them Doctor Strange was boring if not even a little stupid. Now it’s your turn, Wizarding World nerds, because Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an overly long, dull movie that seemingly only exists for two reasons.
- Launch a new franchise that will surely make a lot of money
- Remind you that Eddie Redmayne looks like he’s only halfway done transforming into a monster.
This is the future of the empire JK Rowling and later Warner Brothers built with the Harry Potter stories. And like George Lucas did in 1999, they’re looking to the past for that future.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a prequel to Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, in a way. The book that Redmayne’s character is working on is a required text for Hogwart’s students. Certain names and places that you know are mentioned, but that’s really it, so it’s kind of a loose connection to the original stories at best. There’s no moment where a character named Lord Voldemort Sr. walks past and gives the camera a knowing wink.
The movie opens with Newt Scamander (Redmayne) arriving on the shores of Ellis Island with a case full of odd creatures. At this point we haven’t seen any of them yet. Every now and then the case will shake or you’ll hear a chirp followed by Newt saying something like “Knock it off, Reginald, you silly goose.”
While walking the streets of Manhattan, Newt stumbles upon Mary Lou Barebone (Minority Report’s Samantha Morton), who is like the Donald Trump of muggles, except in America we call them “no-majes” (Get it? Because they have no magic. Also, did you know what we call an elevator Brits call a lift? The English language is silly!). She and her New Salem Society know there is witchcraft and wizardry in the world even though other humans don’t believe them, and they want to build that wall and get them bad people out!
Sidenote: Get it together JK Rowling! I’ll accept that wizards and witches have silly last names. It’s part of your world’s charm, but Barebone for a human who runs an orphanage in shambles? You’re a dork.
Alright, where were we?
Oh, right. While Newt is watching Mary Lou’s ol’ time street preachin’ one of his fantastic beasts, which honestly is just a platypus, scurries into a bank to steal money and jewels, which I guess all Manhattan banks kept on hand in the 1920s. Newt goes in to follow him and meets Jacob Kowalski (Balls of Fury’s Dan Fogler), a WWI vet trying to get a loan to open a bakery.
Jacob spots the platypus and then some sort of snake-eagle hybrid’s egg hatches in his hands, so of course Newt can’t just let him go. So he kidnaps Jacob and tries to escape, but Jacob gets away and in the process switches his case full of delicious pastries for Newt’s filled with Fantastic Beasts and now we don’t know where to find them.
This recap is starting to drag, so let’s just hit the bullet points from here.
- Newt and Jacob meet Tina Goldstein (Michael Clayton’s Katherine Waterston who looks like a young Maura Tierney) and her sister Queenie (Dig’s Alison Sudol)
- Magic fight
- They all get captured by whatever the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic is in the USA.
- There’s a mean wind that is killing people
- Magic fight
- Newt takes Jacob into the case to meet some of the beasts. Magic ensues.
- There’s an elf played by Ron Perlman who looks exactly like Ron Perlman without elf makeup.
- Magic fight
I think anything else would be a little too spoiler heavy. Wait! Did I mention all of the magic fights? Oh, I didn’t. There’s another magic fight.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them feels like a shameless cash grab. The movie is way too long, clocking in at two hours and 14 minutes. It’s somehow insanely boring despite the presence of a number of magic fights and dare I say some truly fantastic beasts.
But this is supposed to be the movie that kicks off a franchise. That means a lot of exposition, explanation, rule establishing and world building. Which, look, all of that is fine and necessary, but if you’re not already fully invested in this world, it’s not going to be what sucks you into the movies. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them feels like you’re about to play some weird role playing dice game with your friend and you realized too late that the rules are sacred to him, so now you have to sit through his lecture instead of getting drunk and hurling rocks at abandoned buildings.
Is this movie going to be a hit? Of course it is. I lost count of the number of Hogwarts scarves in the crowd last night. It’s just that this movie offers nothing new or interesting about the Wizarding World and that’s why it feels so unnecessary.
Again though we have to turn to my Doctor Strange review from a couple weeks ago. There’s nothing that you just read here that has changed your mind at all. If you want to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, you’re going to see it. If you’re a Harry Potter die-hard, you’ve already decided you’re going to like this movie. I am just typing to type at this point really.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network.