So this franchise train is happening whether anyone likes it or not. Some fans of this world will be along for the ride no matter what and they are legion so like the last movie it will undoubtedly due well financially. Let’s proceed.
Fantastic Beasts isn’t a bad concept and even then a seemingly bad concept can be elevated with great writing and craft. A character loves creatures and wants to understand and document them, being that this is a world of magic they are creatures with special designs and abilities. This could be charming, simple fun, yet for some reason, there must be a big bad and an overly complex plot throughout.
So in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, it was revealed that one of the characters was Grindelwald, a powerful wizard that seeks to elevate the wizards from their hiding. He was imprisoned in the last movie and when this one opens he escapes, obviously. Playing him is Johnny Depp and this is the best performance from him in a while, recently in his career, he’s been gliding by with simply being quirky and not really giving much to his characters that made his name. He doesn’t have a lot of screentime here (odd being that his character’s name is in the title) and what he does I don’t believe will cement him as one of the great villains of movie history, but he is much more on-point. Gracefully moves and poses like a superstar, with a sleek British accent making him a mix of charming and sinister. Along the course of the movie, he is responsible for a few deaths that cement him as a legitimate threat.
Like in the last movie we have Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, the gentle soul that is awkward around human beings but is truly at peace in the company of his magical creatures. This will probably be the character Redmayne will be most remembered for and being that he had another movie to practice he has made this role his. As soon as he is introduced he is quietly sitting by himself but begins to play with his pet stick creature, this moment of charm is what is most enduring about the character and these movies, pity the plot must butt in.
Credence, some kind of special wizard (I don’t know, I still don’t understand it from the last movie) is still alive and must be hunted down and killed. Also, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who has regained his memories from them being erased from the last movie is also back on the scene. So two big emotional impacts from the last movie meant nothing. Also, Newt has realized that he loves Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), this barely adds too much because with everything else going on their relationship has barely any time. The point is, everything is happening in Paris, so that is everyone gotta be.
Already the form of this franchise has become clear. Each movie will take place in an iconic city of a different country. This is to break the franchise out of the narrow view it has set up previously with just the school of Hogwarts based in England. It’s not a bad way to go about it, it allows for variations with the imagery, having different cultures and keeps the characters moving.
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, the gentle soul that is awkward around human beings but is truly at peace in the company of his magical creatures. This will probably be the character Redmayne will be most remembered for and being that he had another movie to practice he has made this role his.
Like in the last movie it is the beast themselves that are the real stars of the show. They vary in all kinds of shapes and sizes with unique movements and quirks. Some are majestic, others are cute and will most likely make great toys while others are frightening. The actors themselves do a convincing job of seeming like they’re interacting with these C.G.I. creations that aren’t really there in front of them.
It must be pointed out that the people working on the visuals for these movies are some of the best in the business. From the costumes, the sets, props and digital animation there is so much effort and care put into all the stitching of the clothes, the details in each wizards distinctive wand and the numerous digital animations they have to create, these people are great craftsmen.
However, while the movie was playing out and we saw all these special effects and at one point a vertical and rotating library I was thinking “So what.”It felt like a case of the tail wagging the dog, rather than the image be built on a point or lyrical meaning it just seems like someone in one of their departments said “Hey wouldn’t this be cool!” and they decided to incorporate it into the movie.
Near the end, the main detriment of the last movie happens again, in which they come out and hit you with a revelation that comes out of nowhere. While it was playing out I did not understand it at all, I was so confused. I understand going into it and understand what comes of it, but the in’s and outs of the details were a complete blur. Characters you don’t know get named fast in a complicated series of events that is like an entire Agatha Christie novel told to us within the course of three minutes. When it was done I felt like the movie stopped, slapped me in the face with needless complexity, then carried on its merry way.
In terms of a tone that runs through the movie and plot structuring with things being set up and coming back or a visual that pay off later this is a more solid movie than the first, so maybe by the end of these five movies, we will have a really good experience on our hands. It is still troubled but less so.
Another glaring problem with this franchise, which is much more obvious now that other familiar characters from the Harry Potter franchise are introduced is that the outcome of all the drama is already known. We know Dumbledore (Jude Law) wins and is alive and well at the end, Grindelwald loses, so why are we here?
Well, the first movie had its charm and was competent in the mechanics of filmmaking and had great artists to bring the world to life, but light tones of Newt and Kowalski shenanigans mixed with the dark unpleasant and complex elements also going on made it a confused package. This time around more is fixed and the tone is consistent. Though a few improvements on a not very good product don’t make a very good product, just a lesser mess.