J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts continues to get a lot of press. Reviews for the movie, which is the first in a series of five, have been generally positive. Fantastic Beasts currently rates a 76% on the Tomatometer and an Audience Score of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. On Metacritic, Beasts is at a mostly positive 66%. Not surprisingly, it opened globally with $200m at number one, beating Doctor Strange and Trolls. Is this a big enough opening to launch a new Wizarding World series? Apparently, yes.
Improving Fantastic Beasts
However, that hasn’t kept some from speculating on improving Fantastic Beasts. Entertainment Weekly, for example, lists five suggestions with which we’d more or less agree:
- Focus on fewer beasts (We called this one earlier, as the beast sequences can be a little distracting.).
- Lure Newt out of his shell, as he can be a little repressed (except for when he’s in action mode, wrestling a beast).
- Improved CGI.
- Escape from New York (Is it just us or do the American witches seem either beaurocratic and heartless, or gangster and heartless? Maybe we just didn’t get see enough of them outside of Queenie and Porpentina.).
- More Credence (Please.). A less campy Johnny Depp (Grindelwald isn’t The Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka, so hopefully Depp will give us a villain we can sink our teeth into.).
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is leading the box office for its opening weekend and launching what’s expected to be a five-film franchise in the Harry Potter universe. But fans and critics seem to agree it could be even better. Here are our suggestions for the sequel:
- Find Fewer Beasts
A little bit of beast goes a long way. Fantastic Beasts had a couple great ones (the kleptomaniacal Niffler was terrific, and the Bowtruckle had a couple moments where we actually weren’t thinking “Baby Groot”). But seemingly in an effort to live up to the film’s title, and differentiate the new franchise from the Harry Potter series, the filmmakers shoved in a lot of creatures, leading to moments that gave us a dreaded Jumanji vibe. Specifically: Wrangling the Occamy into a teacup felt unconvincing, the Central Park Zoo sequence with the Erumpent went on far too long, and the recurring shots of the flying blue insectile Billywig never paid off at all (there were plenty of deleted scenes, so perhaps its fate ended up on the cutting room floor; call your agent, Billywig!). The charm of Rowling’s book that inspired Fantastic Beasts was how each creature has their own clever trait. In the film, such traits often weren’t expressed in a way that impacted the story. So for the sequel: Fewer beasts, with each having an actual reason for being in the film. The strongest moments in the movie were from the type of storytelling that Rowling does best anyway – sincere, empathetic human drama and humor in a magical world.
- Lure Newt out of his shell
Eddie Redmayne’s performance was convincing, unique, and consistent as the introverted Newt Scamander. As one critic pointed out, however, the actor pushed down his charisma so much to play the socially inept character, that he also keeps the audience at wand’s length. Perhaps Newt’s new American friends will loosen him up to at least have a bit of fun next time?
- A lot less (or perhaps just better) CGI
In a film stuffed with so many CG beasts, it was perhaps not the best choice for the villain to also be rendered as an CG creation. Credence’s obscurus is an building-wrecking smoke-monster that generated a lot of noisy destruction, yet felt uninvolving as a supernatural force. The film’s regular sets felt a bit gauzy and unreal too. The MACUSA lobby, for instance, is a massive practical set in London that’s extremely impressive when viewed in person. Yet in the film, because of all the visual effects added into the shots, the lobby looked like a green-screen soundstage. The current trend in filmmaking is back toward practical effects with CG only used as enhancement, and it would be great to see Beasts embrace this tactic as well.
- Escape from New York
We’re flattered on this side of the pond that the wizarding world showed American wizarding life (though we also apparently come off like repressed authoritarian jerks). But the Potter-verse, like so many successful fantasy titles, is an English creation that feels more at home in a European setting. Rowling has said the sequel will have some action in Paris, and that’s great – but maybe future films can also find a way to place Newt in his natural, outdoor habitat among those beloved beasts.
- Assorted hopes for heroes and villains
We hope to get young Albus Dumbledore in the next film, of course. But casting is key – just see the response to Depp, detailed here. (Many Potter fans hope Depp’s portrayal of Grindelwald will eschew his campy creations of roles past, and we expect the Beasts team will take that advice to heart.) As for the rest of the cast: return engagements for both Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller would be welcome. Since we don’t know that the real Percival Graves is actually dead, it’s entirely possible Farrell could return as the real auror – far less evil, yet still a steely force. Miller’s Credence, meanwhile, deserves to do a bit more than cringing and cowering in the background (and we hear he is indeed set to return).
As for our heroes, one of the sweetest bits in Beasts was the relationship between Queenie (whose mind-reading powers lend themselves to all sorts of interesting dramatic and humor possibilities) and Jacob. Their final scenes rescued the film’s ending. Obviously Queenie sees something in Jacob beyond his everyman dropped-jaw, aw-shucks nice-guy routine, but we need more of that going forward: show us what makes him special to her, not just what makes him ordinary and relatable.