In 2011, the Harry Potter franchise finally capped itself off with what I personally thought to be a rushed, sloppy finale. It seemed that Warner Brothers was actually going to commit to this ending, and let their DC franchise take the lead as their new primary focus. Not so. Instead, they have decided to create spin off films based on some of the textbooks that the young wizards studied at Hogwarts (when’s the Wizard math movie coming I wonder), beginning with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The story takes place 70 years prior to the beginning of the original film, and centers on Newt Scamander, a magizoologist who discovers and studies the monsters of the Wizarding world. Despite my utter distain for the idea of expanding this universe this way, it certainly a concept that could lend itself to a somewhat interesting film if done right. It was looking especially promising when recent Oscar Winner and Prisoner of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron was eying the project. However it seems as though Warner Bros has decided to go down a safer route. David Yates, who brought us the last four films in the franchise and is currently shepherding a reboot of Tarzan has opted to return to the world that he brought to the finish line.
Yates certainly is far from a bad filmmaker, but he is definitely a little uneven. While I really like what he did with both Half Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows Part 1 (the best film in the series in my opinion), I was not at all satisfied with his efforts on Order of the Phoenix or the second Hallows film. While he certainly brings a very gritty, honest sensibility to the universe, his style also sucks a great deal of the fun out of the proceedings. Visually, the vast and eye popping palates of the previous films were replaced with somber shades of grey and black, and spells that were previously colorful and brash were reduced to bullet-like streaks of white that makes each one borderline indistinguishable. His more edgy sensibility does translate very well to the character moments of the stories though, and he’s brought out what were by far the best performances of the Potter cast.
While this isn’t a terrible decision, it feels very safe indeed. Spin-off films should make an effort to really distinguish themselves from their sources, both visually and tonally creating something new and exciting that just so happens to take place in the world of something we love. How great would it be to have a film in this universe that doesn’t necessarily fall into the same genre as the main series, investing us for completely different reasons than before. With Yates, I worry that the tone of the latter Potter outings will just bleed into this one, and we get a competent, but not by any means stunning prequel that will serve more as a cash grab.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens on November 18th, 2016