Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts

Evan Liu, Staff Writer

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As a lifelong Potterhead, I am shocked to say that I was disappointed by Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald, a film that felt like it was trying to juggle twenty balls at the same time. It would have been feasible with fewer story lines to follow, but not even the most masterful juggler can manage that many balls at the same time. The lack of organization from the director, David Yates, made the film incredibly difficult to follow for even the most devoted fans.

The film starts off on the ground running, as Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is immediately established as a formidable threat in a thrilling sequence that also serves to set the plot in motion. The entire action set-piece gave me flashbacks to Ralph Fiennes’ chilling portrayal of the Dark Lord Voldemort, and I was hopeful that the rest of the film would ensnare my imagination so vividly.

The film moves on to our protagonist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), at the Ministry of Magic as he attempts to convince the government to allow him to travel internationally. We are introduced to two new characters that will prove to be crucial to the plot, Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) and Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz). And not only that, but Yates also informs us that Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) is rumored to be Corvus Lestrange, Leta’s long-lost brother. The scene itself felt fairly pointless, as anyone who had seen the trailers would know that Newt was leaving London.

Despite the dullness of the Ministry, the scene is saved by the introduction of Jude Law’s Albus Dumbledore. This portrayal may be the best portrayal of the wise mentor in any of the wizarding world films. While both Gambon and Harris gave fans excellent portrayals of Dumbledore, Law perfectly captures his quiet power and the powerful twinkle in his eyes. It was undoubtedly my favorite performance of the film.

In the next scene, Newt Scamander explores his vivid case of magical creatures, and it is absolutely breathtaking. We meet new beasts and old beasts alike, and though most of them are fairly inconsequential, it’s a nice moment of levity that was also present in the Harry Potter films. The scene also allows the film to show off its extremely impressive visual effects, creating detailed and fascinating images of the many creatures in Scamander’s book.

The film then catches up with Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who arrive in Newt’s apartment. Jacob has been enchanted by Queenie to love her, which Newt promptly undoes. Queenie, who feels completely humiliated, runs off to find her sister, Tina (Katherine Waterston).

At this point in the film, there is a lot of potential that has been presented. There have been a number of excellent scenes, and each of the characters has fairly reasonable motivations, based on what we know of them. But as the first act of the film moves to the second act, the movies starts to fall apart. The entire sequence in Paris feels completely cluttered, as Yates continues to introduce new plot threads well into the second act. There are too many stories for one film to tell, and with so little time, it was nearly impossible for the audience to become invested in all of them.

In Paris, the film skips and jumps from one character to the next until they all convene at the film’s final action scene. While this approach could have worked if there had been less to deal with, it failed because the threads were vaguely created and the character motivations were poorly defined. Whether it be Credence on screen attempting to learn about his heritage, or new character Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) with poorly explained motivations, each story arc that the film attempts to bring closure to just leaves the viewer with strange answers and more questions. And to make things worse, I didn’t even feel anxious to find the answers to those questions in the next films.

Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald would most definitely have fared better as a full-length novel, similar to the Harry Potter books. J.K. Rowling could have put all the ideas that she wanted into the book, and Yates could have adapted it into a film, as he has so masterfully done in the past. But that result did not happen, and the movie ended up showing promise at first, only to fall flat onto its face as it dragged on. Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald didn’t need to set up massive amounts of future films to succeed. It only needed the magic, and that magic was severely lacking.

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