Nothing fantastic about these beasts

Tinashe Kusema The Big & Small Screen —
Melissa Benoist is now officially my favourite actress in the world. I recently bumped into an Instagram post of hers, from last weekend’s march by women in Washington DC. Given that this is a family paper — her message to “The Donald”, during said march, is unprintable.

However, I would like to say this much; it was a clever and witty piece of literature. For those not in the know, Benoist is the star of the ongoing “Supergirl” television show, which so happens to be one of my favourite vices at the moment.

The show, now midway through its second series, debuted back in 2015, wowing critics and viewers on its way to earning lead actress Benoist a Breakout Performance of the Year Award at the Saturn Awards.

The Saturn Awards are the poor man’s Oscars or Golden Globes for the little, less known television shows.

For those interested in the sign she was carrying at the march, you can find it on her Instagram page, with over 300 000 likes, or just Google it.

Now to my least favourite person of the moment: JK Rowling. I am yet to read any of her books (and yes, including the “Harry Potter” stories) and quite frankly, I’m not quite compelled to do so any time soon.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them” is the British novelist’s screen writing debut and also sees her co-producing.

It reunited her with “Harry Potter” cohorts David Yates (director) and David Heyman (co-producer). Set in the early 1920s, the film tells the story of British wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who travels from Britain to the United States with a suitcase full of mythical creatures he aims to set free.

Unfortunately, a series of unfortunate events sees Scamander lose his case, get it mixed up with that of a no-mag (no magic) by the name Jacob Kolwaski (Dan Fogler) who in turn lets some of the creatures loose.

As Scamander sets out to retrieve his creatures, he is inevitably brought into an on-going war between the Wizards Society of New York and the No-mags of the city.

All the while, a looming threat exists as a dark wizard by name Gellert Grindleward (Johhny Depp) is currently roaming the streets and wants to expose the wizards society and wage war against the No-mags.

I do not really care much about this film, which apparently is the opening salvo of a five-part movie and six-part novel series.

Part of the marketing strategy and a significant part for that matter, is that this film has its roots in the “Harry Potter” series. The film and story, are actually set in the same timeline, but this story is a prequel of the “Harry Potter” adventures.

Given how popular the books are, and how successful the movie franchise is, I cannot fault Warner Brothers for literally shoving that part down our throats prior to the film’s release.

What I do fault them for is their failure to fully connect the dots of the two stories. Yes, this film is set some time before Harry Potter was even born, but a little connection other than name dropping “Albus Dumbledore” and “Hogwarts” could have helped.

Also, one of the things that made the Harry Potter films, in particular “The Philosopher’s Stone”, so successful was that the film was a proper origins story.

At the heart of things, it established the roots of main characters Harry, Ron Weasely and Hermione Granger. It also set loose Voldemort, who despite his limited appearance in the first three movies, was established as a looming and credible threat.

All major characters received proper backstories, development and screen time.

By comparison “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” has gotten off to the worst possible start. There were parts during the movie that I found myself asking: “Why am I watching this silly film?”

The creatures are not believable and more often than not ruined the scenery. The CGI was terrible. Another weakness is that the main plot virtually has no connection to the main three or four characters.

I say three or more because by the end of the film, one cannot tell who will be returning and who will not. Such was the lack of commitment to the film’s supposed “central characters”.

Aside from Scamander, I can actually remove up to six characters and the movie will still have ended the same way it did.

There are way too many characters for one to invest interest going into the second film. It also means limited screen time, story development and plot movement for our “leads”.

Given that this is to be a five-film series, there has to be potent threat looming on the horizon. In comes Johnny Depp’s Grindleward. There is not much to say about the character aside that he is a nefarious wizard hell bent on waging war.

We get little information about his origins or the threat he actually poses. All we get is a bunch of newspaper cuttings and headlines that confirm his presence and points to him as the series’ big baddie.

It says a lot about Warner Brothers that they signed big names like Depp, Jon Voight and Collin Farrell. Talk about deep pockets.

None of the stars really shine, with Redmayne not fulfilling the promise he showed while promoting the film. He spends way too much time whispering his lines and staring at his shoes.

Ezra Miller (Credence Barebone) does not deliver the big budget debut that was expected. As the troubled teenager with strong dark magic, he is almost unrecognisable from the Barry Allen we have seen in the “Justice League” trailer.

Hopefully, those big bucks will be poured into making the next movie better.

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