Hold tight to your broomsticks, wizards. We’re not going to Hogwarts on this ride.
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”
These words from Macbeth ring true in the ninth installment of J.K. Rowling’s ongoing film franchise “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them,” an adaptation that, regardless of its license, lacks any sense of magic and merely echoes to the audience the need to put this license to rest.
In this spinoff from the Harry Potter chronology we are all too familiar with, eccentric zoologist Newt Scamander travels to America to gain knowledge of the magical beasts he contains in his chest. Once in New York, he gets involved with the muggle Jacob Kowalski, whom he accidentally swaps chests with before being arrested and taken into the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA).
Upon realizing this mistake, Newt and “Auror” member Tina Goldstein rush to Kowalski’s apartment to find him badly hurt and many beasts escaped into the city. With the two of them befriending each other, they must hurry to recapture the beasts to preserve the wizard society from being discovered by the muggle realm, ensuring their safety.
The first critical mistake lies in how its discourse is constructed.
The film makes assumptions about our prior knowledge of this world and awkwardly places new information given to us, much like how the beginning of the film throws us into the heat of the conflict without giving us time to take in this new setting.
This leads to the second weakness in the plot: lack of a consistent focalizer, or someone the audience can connect with.
In a narrative with so much terminology that’s alien to the audience (excluding readers of the original source material), it’s important to have a character also asks our questions and reacts to situations the way we would. The closest this film gets to accomplish this is in Kowalski, who is admittedly my favorite character. The problem, yet again, is how the film is too rapidly paced to let us resonate with any individual character, which leads me to its third issue.
Every character (exception being Kowalski) exists solely to be an excuse to drive the plot in one direction or another. There is hardly any time for character depth at all, making most of the scuffles feel meaningless and character motives incoherent. The worst of this comes from Percival Graves, who is a manipulator of the orphan Credence. His motivations are obscure and overly complicated, and he acts out in outlandish ways for the sake of having an additional conflict in the film; a simpler story would have worked wonders for presenting this new take on the Harry Potter material.
If it’s starting to sound like my opinion is very one-sided in this review, it’s because “Fantastic Beasts” failed at the one and only reason for being made in the first place: adding something fresh to this world. It’s difficult to find a spot to add this to any Harry Potter collection since it doesn’t offer a new perspective or expansion to this world. The best this film does for the overarching discourse of the Harry Potter story is reiterate the stigma against wizards and muggles, and introduce more political layers to impede our protagonists.
I’m just bursting with excitement.
Part of this overbearing criticism partially comes from nostalgia that earlier incarnations of this franchise created. Some of it comes from expecting more from a great casting of recognizable actors. The biggest source of this, however, comes from the same issue plaguing most media companies these days: not knowing when to put the brush down.
Where most other franchises fall victim to capitalist concerns, there is a deeper, more intimate force at work here. Between this and the mixed reception received from Rowling’s novel “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the question arises of whether or not she can let go of her creation that she has rightfully grown attached to.
Regardless, this is a title that couldn’t give me a reason to exist beyond the most strong-willed fans that must have everything Harry Potter related in their collection. Even though box office numbers guarantee it, I’d strongly advise against a sequel.
I’m hoping that J.K. Rowling can obliviate this installment from her filmography and move on to more creative titles that will show off her talents.
Jonathan Mersch is a staff writer.