While I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter books and films I did not run out and see the newest film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in theaters.  I was quasi-excited when the film was announced but by the time the film actually made it to theaters I was very ho-hum on seeing the flick.  Now that the flick is finally available on home video and digital I thought I might as well give the latest “chapter” in the Harry Potter universe a go.

While not being a spectacular film Fantastic Beasts is actually quite fun.  It does something that the Potter films didn’t do – you are able to see the film mostly through the eyes of all the adults.  We are also, for the first time, able to see the wizarding world in America – New York to be specifically.  The film is actually a period piece as it takes place during 1926.  There’s motorcars and horses on the streets.  It’s old school in terms of dress and music.  While the Potter movies mostly take place right inside the wizarding world of Hogwarts it is actually refreshing to see how the wizards interact when in mostly a real world setting.

While all that can be really cool we are forced to follow British magician Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he arrives in New York on his way to…Arizona.  Why Arizona?  Who knows.  Newt is a collector of magical beasts which he keep in his briefcase.  Why?  Who knows.  Because…reasons.  Because…plot.  Right away magical creatures start to get out of the briefcase because…plot.  You would think if you were a traveling magician carrying beasts with a magical suitcase you would be able to contain them.  But because we need a plot the creatures are able to escape.

As Newt is a man out of place in New York and this allows us to learn about the New York wizarding community – sort of through his eyes but also the eyes of New Yorker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who inadvertently ends up involved in Newt’s New York adventures.  It is important for this because, just like Harry was in the original film, by being not involved in the New York wizarding world everything has to be explained to them (and, thus, explained to us).

Instead of being known as a muggle Jacob is known in American magician slang as a No-Maj.  He is introduced to the world when caught up with Newt as he is taken in by ex-Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston).  It’s a bad time to be a wizard in New York because it appears there is something magical loose in New York and the magic community needs to find out what it is or be exposed.  Leading the way is badass magician Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) who seems to have quite a few ulterior motives on his own.

When more of Newt’s creatures get on the loose it is up to Newt (and the caught-up Jacob) to recapture them before things get worse – and before the wizard world believes it is one of Newt’s escaped creatures causing all the chaos.

Now Newt is able to enter his briefcase which inside is actually a massively huge zoo for all of his creatures.  MAGIC!  Of course Jacob goes in the briefcase with Newt and is quite amazed by all the FANTASTIC BEASTS that Newt has collected.  This sequence…………………………..like this sentence…………………….goes on for way, way, way too long.

It’s part of the problem with this movie.  With J.K. Rowling writing the script it seems that the editor didn’t want to edit out too much because they are afraid of not showing what J.K. wrote.  Because of this there seems to be sequences that just go on way, way, way too long.  There’s a bunch.  And in a movie that goes on for two hours and twenty minutes they really could have cut out a good 20 to 30 minutes and had a much leaner film.

Now it’s hard to talk shit about Eddie Redmayne because he’s an Academy Award winning actor best known for his amazing roles in The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl.  But he is also known for his horrid performance in Jupiter Ascending.  Here he is more Jupiter Ascending than Stephen Hawking.  It’s not horrible acting like his Jupiter Ascending performance but he’s just not much of a convincing leading man in this movie.  I really found myself wishing several times that they had cast another British actor to play the role.  Redmayne isn’t bad per se…he’s just not great.  I wish they had someone great.

Katherine Waterston’s ex-Auror Tina Goldstein also feels miscast.  She’s a wonderful actress who has had some amazing roles in films like Inherent Vice and Steve Jobs.  But here…I just didn’t buy her as a magician.  I didn’t buy her as someone who was a dark wizard hunter.  As the leading female role she seemed quite mousey.

Luckily the film is saved by the other two leading actors.  It is great to see Dan Fogler acting again.  It seemed for a hot second in the mid 2000’s that he was going to break out but then he just kind of disappeared.  He’s a hell of an actor and it really show in his performance as No-Maj Jacob Kowalski.  Kowalski is very bright-eyed as he makes his way with the group through the wizarding world and his “man outside” really helps the audience connect with the film.

Alison Sudol plays Tina’s sister Queenie – a blonde bombshell flapperesque kind of wizard who can read minds.  Sudol completely makes this entire film.  She is so amazing every time she is onscreen and her ability to read minds also brings some levity to the otherwise serious film.  Queenie is beautiful, she’s captivating, and you love every second she is onscreen.  And when Queenie and Jacob are together?  Usually it is cinematic gold.

So basically Newt needs to recapture his escaped creatures while possibly helping figure out what is causing the damage throughout New York.  When it comes to the wizarding world’s attention of who Newt is and what he has brought to New York he is basically blamed for the whole mess.  So now it is up to Newt and Tina (and to a certain extent Jacob…and a less extent Queenie) to help save New York City.

Director David Yates (who directed the last four Harry Potter films) does a good job bringing 1920’s New York to life.  He’s already played in the Harry Potter universe so he knows what to bring to the film.  Once again the huge problem I had with the flick was the pacing and, to a lesser extent, the acting of the leads.  To an even lesser extent I can’t believe they are going to make FOUR MORE of these movies.  I mean I’m glad they are continuing movies in the Harry Potter world.

But FIVE Newt Scamander films?!?!?!?  They really could have done one.  Maybe three at the most.  And then they could move on to more interesting wizards other than the guy who collects gleepglops or whatever.  James and Lily Potter in the war against Voldemort?  Make three movies out of that.  I have no clue how four more movies about collecting gleepglops is going to play out.

Now there is this whole subplot with In America’s Samantha Morton (reuniting her with Colin Farrell!  MINORITY REPORT, BITCHES!) being this woman who believes there are witches in New York and she adopts all these orphans that she really doesn’t care about.  One of those kids is Ezra Miller and he is all kinds of messed up.  Ezra’s character ends up being essentialish to the plot.  ALSO Jon Voight plays the father of a guy running for like mayor or something.  I dunno.  And Voight is like a William Randolph Hearst type…but a bit nicer…?!?!?  I dunno.  I didn’t care about Voight at all and unless they bring him back for the sequels he was more fat that could have been trimmed off the meat.

At the end of the day the film is actually pretty decent thanks mostly to Fogler and Sudol, the special effects, and Yates directing.  I’m not sure I’ll see any of these sequels when they come out in theaters but I’ll be happy to watch them once they finally go digital.

RANK: B-