Fantastic Beasts reviews roundup: Harry Potter universe roars back | EW.com

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them reviews: Harry Potter universe roars back

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Five years after J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter film series last conjured mirthy box office returns for its 2011 conclusion, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2, the world-renowned novelist’s magical universe returns to movie theaters in the form of David Yates’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which has, thus far, cast a spell on movie critics ahead of its Nov. 18 release.

Fantastic Beasts is a rich, baroque, intricately detailed entertainment with some breathtaking digital fabrications of prewar New York City,” writes Peter Bradshaw in his review for The Guardian. “It’s a very Rowling universe, dense with fun, but always taking its own jeopardy very seriously and effortlessly making you do the same.”

John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter says the film essentially bridges the all-important gap between both die-hard fans of the Harry Potter franchise and general audiences alike. He writes: “Likely to draw in just about everyone who followed the Potter series and to please most of them, the picture also has things to offer for fantasy-friendly moviegoers who only casually observed that phenomenon.” 

Rowling, the woman responsible for seven titles in the original Harry Potter book series, first published in 1997, wrote her first feature screenplay for Fantastic Beasts — a transition which sees the author striking “a savvy balance between shiny new elements and recognisable ones for Potterheads,” indicates Time Out’s Cath Clarke. 

Though he similarly lauds the immersive world Rowling creates for Beasts, Variety’s Peter Debruge notes the film’s screenplay “amplifies both the strengths and weaknesses of Rowling’s storytelling approach,” taking issue with the episodic storytelling devices yet highlighting Rowling “clearly going out of her way to establish a foundation that can be enriched and expanded upon in future films.” 

EW’s Chris Nashawaty, however, is more critical of the film, praising its “phantasmagorical special effects” despite taking issue with the film’s pacing, as, according to his B- review, Beasts “unspools like a kiddie version of the X-Men flicks.” 

Check out what the critics are saying about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in the review excerpts below. 

Image Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

Chris Nashawaty (EW)
“The film, directed by seasoned Potter pro David Yates, unspools like a kiddie version of the X-Men flicks. The xenophobic Muggle population (or No-Majs, as they’re called Stateside) live in rabid suspicion of the hidden world of hocus-pocus. And like those films, its phantasmagorical special effects are easy on the eyes. So why does Fantastic Beasts feel so oddly lifeless? Why doesn’t it cast more of a spell? First, there are the performances, which aside from Redmayne’s are surprisingly flat. And second, the thinness of the source material gives the whole film a slightly padded feeling. Rowling, who also wrote the script, nimbly lays out her world, but that world isn’t nearly as rich as the world of Hogwarts. And the villains (chief among them Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves) are stock cinematic baddies. Fantastic Beasts is two-plus hours of meandering eye candy that feels numbingly inconsequential. Maybe this is all necessary table-setting that will lead to bigger payoffs in chapters 2 through 5. I hope so. Because for a movie stuffed with so many weird and wondrous creatures, there isn’t nearly enough magic.”

Eric Kohn (IndieWire)
“While tender, artfully understated studio efforts such as David Lowery’s Pete’s Dragon suggest an alternate route to overpriced spectacles, Fantastic Beasts proves that scale is less of an issue than the level of care that goes into its creation. The Potter movies were so well conceived that they contain endless possibilities for more entries, and Fantastic Beasts takes the bait right on cue, not repeating a formula so much as enriching it with a spellbinding polish.”

Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)
Fantastic Beasts is a rich, baroque, intricately detailed entertainment with some breathtaking digital fabrications of prewar New York City. This is Steampunk 2.0, taking its inspirations from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Howard Hawks’s His Girl Friday but the New York she creates also has the dark, traumatised look of Gotham City… It’s a very Rowling universe, dense with fun, but always taking its own jeopardy very seriously and effortlessly making you do the same. The Beasts movies may actually make clearer Rowling’s under-discussed debt to Roald Dahl. They also show that her universe with its exotic fauna is in the best way, a cousin to that of George Lucas… Rowling and Yates have given us a terrifically good-natured, unpretentious and irresistibly buoyant film. There’s a scene in a speakeasy where someone orders ‘six shots of giggle-water.’ This film felt to me like twelve.”

Cath Clarke (Time Out) 
Fantastic Beasts is basically a Harry Potter prequel (though you’ll get a detention for saying that). JK Rowling, writing her first film script, and longtime Harry Potter director David Yates have created an entirely new corner of the wizarding world. They strike a savvy balance between shiny new elements and recognisable ones for Potterheads. I’m not sure which is more adorable, Eddie Redmayne as eccentric magician Newt Scamander or the creatures he smuggles into the US in his battered and bottomless leather briefcase. Redmayne radiates a wet-eyed warm glow as stumbling, bashful Newt – an English wizard in New York. He’s perfect for Rowling’s world, where a kind heart is the most potent magical power of all.There are not quite enough thrills in Fantastic Beasts to keep you always on the edge of your seat, and no film-stealing baddie to dig your teeth into – but then Voldemort didn’t make a proper appearance until Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Still, Farrell is in possession of some of the most menacing eyebrows in Hollywood, and we know that Johnny Depp is on his way as Dumbledore’s nemesis Gellert Grindelwald. And Redmayne’s lovely performance sets up the emotional core of the franchise. So yes, the magic is still there.”

John DeFore (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Likely to draw in just about everyone who followed the Potter series and to please most of them, the picture also has things to offer for fantasy-friendly moviegoers who only casually observed that phenomenon. The latter group, however, may be less convinced that this spin-off demands the five feature-length installments Warner and Rowling have planned… Much of the film’s big wizarding-politics material will be appreciated mostly by those who thirst for ever more backstory in Rowling’s universe. It will doubtless be useful as the franchise progresses, though — the main villain, Gellert Grindelwald, makes the kind of teasing appearance at the end that promises a long Voldemort-like story arc. (Avoid IMDB if you want that cameo to surprise you.) Whether or not the ensemble chemistry ever clicks to the extent it did for Harry, Hermione, and Ron, Rowling clearly has an endless supply of lore left to share with those invested in her world.” 

Peter Debruge (Variety)
“Just when you thought the world of Harry Potter couldn’t get any darker, along comes a bleak-as-soot spin-off that makes the earlier series look like kids’ stuff. Borrowing its title from one of the textbooks Potter studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks the first screenplay written by J.K. Rowling herself. Though the world-renowned novelist had always kept a tight rein on how those adapting her Potter stories went about their task, this assignment gives her the unprecedented ability to address her massive global fanbase directly, while current events have given her something more substantive to say… Unsurprisingly, Fantastic Beasts amplifies both the strengths and weaknesses of Rowling’s storytelling approach, which unfolds in the episodic style of vintage serials — a cliff-hanger-oriented tactic that works well in novels, where readers might otherwise be tempted to put the book down after each chapter, but feels less elegant on screen, since viewers invariably commit to taking in the entire story in one sitting. And yet, the writer has learned something from the Potter franchise, clearly going out of her way to establish a foundation that can be enriched and expanded upon in future films. One can hardly forget how powerful the revelation of Severus Snape’s backstory was, enriched by having a master plan from the beginning, and here, we can sense the first glimmers of character details that will require several installments to take focus.”