Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, B-
Rated PG-13, 132 minutes
Technically speaking, the new "Harry Potter" spinoff and prequel "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" is a fantastic film. The term fantastic would not be applied to its weak, sluggish story telling. Based on J.K. Rowling's (who also co-produces and writes the script here) 2001 novel of the same name, Rowling's fan base will enjoy it the most, while for the rest of us, it may be an endurance test. The overlong "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" has some fancy special effects and nice magical moments, but it lacks the heart and emotion of the "Harry Potter" films.
The year is 1926, and Newt Scamander (Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne, fetching) has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident, were it not for a No-Maj (an American Muggle) named Jacob (Dan Fogler), a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt's fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.
Directed by David Yates, who directed a few of the "Harry Potter" films and the recent "Tarzan" outing, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" isn't an excellent film, but merely a good one entertaining enough to kick off another franchise for its studio, Warner Bros. Much like the Potter films, this is a battle of good vs. evil that is geared toward the young adult set, in spite of some dark undercurrents in Rowling's stories.
Interestingly, Rowling, who is usually a fantastic storyteller, is merely serviceable here. The sluggish first act has some pacing problems and doesn't seem like a good start for a magic-filled adventure, but instead it's filled with a lot heavy, slow exposition and creatures that are paraded around without advancing the story much. Once it gets going, we realize that Newt is battling a dark entity called the Obscurias, something he realizes will be quite a match in the end.
The last act finally comes together with energy, and also setting the stage for future installments, which will likely include much of the cast here. With a couple of exceptions, most perform well: Redmayne imbues Newt with a nice sense of humanity and charm, while a plainish Katherine Waterston is solid as Tina Goldstein, who helps look out for Newt. On the downside, a bland Colin Farell is miscast as Graves, one of the film's villains, while Dan Fogler seems in over his head as Jacob, the No-Maj who unwittingly becomes a part of the adventure.
James Newton Howard's energizing score, the handsome sets and sublime special effects lift "Beasts" above its uneven, lackluster story, which will hopefully evolve more fully into something more emotionally accessible. Speaking of future installments, yes, that's Johnny Depp at the end as the Darkest Wizard of them all, Gellert Grindelwald, who'll play an important role in the next films (and Depp has signed for sequels too).
We'll give it time to see if "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" develops into something truly magical and fantastic. Until then, it's adequately enjoyable.