Mediocre Beasts if You Want to Find Them

Fantastic 2The worst of the Harry Potter films has been around long enough that spoiler warnings seem unnecessary. In this case, there is nothing to spoil, because this film is a dreary bit of mediocrity. With every book, JK Rowling shook off more editorial control and suffered for it. She became rich and now she feels free to opine.

Sadly, JKR has ceased to be “as a little child” and her adult self is mostly childish. The first Harry Potter book was workmanlike in the prose, not much beauty, but full of wonder. Like CS Lewis in Narnia, JKR does small worlds, Hogwarts, beautifully, with an absurd worldview. When she writes of school, quidditch, or young love, she has a sure voice. When she deals with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Magic, then she is like reading Twilight for those who respond to North Korea: absurd.

The Potter books are wonderful, the films uneven, this movie mediocre boosted by fans desperate to love something new in a world they thought ended with the eighth film.

Who is the core audience for this film? The plot is too simple for an adult and the characters too mature for children. The romance, such as it is, is contrived. If you don’t know the witch will marry the No-Mag in the first moment they meet, then you are not literate enough to read JKR. But if you are well read, if you loved Harry, then Fantastic Beasts is just not smart enough for you. There was not one twist that we could not guess and by the end, I found thinking about better JKR more interesting than the film.

JKR has run out of ideas and so is left mining old ideas for second hand inspiration. So barren is Hollywood that even workmanlike JKR is mediocre . . . which is a good bit better than any comic book movies this side of Wonder Woman lately. The money is too big for chances. Imagine pitching a movie about a little boy with faithful friends at an English boarding school today! No chance. What if there was magic? Stupid.

The brand got the picture made, but sadly the film goes forward on brand and not on writing. The good news is that Newt is brilliant. Eddie Redmayne could carry a franchise if he were given a better script and a love interest who did not channel made for TeeVee movies. Perhaps it is best to ignore the rest of the “cast” as they are a genial fine group of stereotypes. You will see a Luna. There is a bargain basement Hermione and an Italian comic relief stereotype.

For the social justice warrior she is online, this film is 1950’s at the core.

Villians? The movie has some. Sincerity? The film overflows. America? JKR and the writers have as much chance of understanding the US as the average BBC sitcom. America is one vast stereotype, so cartoonish that it is not offensive only silly.

What it lacks is a compelling plot, the charm of watching Harry grow up and face death: Hamlet crossed with Tom Brown. Like the latter Oz books by Baum, this is an exploration of the footnotes of the better work, a geographical exploration of the world outside the books. It is good for a view, but not two.

Is this a bad movie? Of course not, nothing JKR touches could be Krull and too much money was spent for it to be cheesy, though the computer animation was oddly bad for a big budget film.


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