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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

** SPOILERS **

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them apparates in movie theaters already threatening to be the first of five films. Packing the most threadbare of story and characters in Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne)'s magical suitcase, Fantastic Beasts has nothing on its mind besides slamming the helpless audience with two hours of non-stop CGI pandemonium masquerading as "magical adventure" while picking their pockets with sleight of hand. There is no whimsy or wonder in Fantastic Beasts' color-bled version of 1920's New York City, nothing resembling human emotion or interest, certainly nothing truly magical. Fantastic Beasts' idea of ending every scene is having the CGI animals destroy every set, and its idea of a happy ending is having the Wizards use their wands to magically repair the sets. Written by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling and helmed by the franchise's sitting bull director David Yates, Fantastic Beasts is the most soulless, somnambular, and egregious example of franchise masturbation in movie theaters today.

Plenty of noisy sturm und drang occurs in Fantastic Beasts. A British Wizard named Newt Scamander arrives in New York City hoisting a suitcase containing magical beasts which are contraband in the magic-ignorant United States. Some of the beasts get loose and Scamander, with the aid of former Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and down-on-his-luck human Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), scuttle about Manhattan trying to recapture the ridiculously destructive creatures. There's also some hubub of a pre-Voldemort Wizard criminal escaped from England and hiding in New York, visits to the immensely pedantic Magical Congress of the United States, and Colin Farrell as an obviously evil Wizard working for the Magic Congress holding in his thrall the simpering, weirdo son (Ezra Miller) of a woman warning against the infestation of witches in America. This all culminates with all of the Wizards, good and evil, chasing after the ever-imaginative staple of lazy blockbuster films: a CGI black cloud of ash destroying the city. This after over 90 minutes of watching some of the unsightliest CGI monsters ever rendered destroying locations like the Central Park Zoo. The Harry Potter franchise has honestly always had an ugly CGI problem, but Fantastic Beasts ups the ante; Fantastic Beasts has more unpleasant and frenetic CGI than all 8 prior Harry Potter movies put together.

As the hero of Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander is an utter failure. Lacking a raison d'etre besides something about traveling to Arizona or a backstory even a fraction as interesting as Neville Longbottom's, much less Harry Potter himself, Redmayne plays Scamander as an incomprehensible cypher. Redmayne, whose dialogue desperately needed to be subtitled, affects a bizarre accent making him nigh-impossible to understand, especially when he's simply telling the audience the names of his CGI creatures. Redmayne isn't even as competent a zookeeper as Tracy Morgan's Brian Fellows from Saturday Night Live. Waterston as a "good" Auror and Farrell as an "evil" Auror, are dual sides of the same, boring coin. The only character reasonably sympathetic is Fogler, who simply wants to open a bakery and get with Waterston's floozy sister, making him by default the most relatable person in Fantastic Beasts. (Fogler cackling every time he takes a sip of Wizard booze is the only fleeting dose of humor in this dour, interminable slog.) Fan service name checks of Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts, the LeStrange family, and Farrell's Deathly Hallows logo keychain (available for purchase where ever Harry Potter merchandise is sold!) remind that Fantastic Beasts exists purely as an obnoxiously transparent attempt to extend the money-making capacity of the Harry Potter franchise. But the Wizarding World of Newt Scamander is a real snoozefest, unless you're looking for a Fantastic Nap and Where to Find It.

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