Saturday, December 3, 2016


Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Director: David Yates
Cast Headliners: Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterson, Alison Sudol, Collin Farrell
Original Release Date: November 18, 2016

Another beloved franchise , J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World as it is titled(of Harry Potter), is reborn into cinemas. It's back to that world of mysteries and magic and beasts set just under a world much like our reality. Though with Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (connected to the short novella of the same name by Rowling) the movie is not just a spin-off but a prequel as well. This creates an interesting recipe for adventurous shenangins.
The movie is set in the 1926 past, in New York City (introducing America on-screen to the universe) and follows a new leading band of heroes. Watching the other Harry Potter films is not a pre-requisite since the connections are at first tangential. The original novel existed in the HP lore as a textbook that Harry and peers used in their Hogwarts courses. Rowling made a real-world, “in-universe” book (and the story/script for this film) detailing a variety of creature lore from within the world by fictional author Newt Scamander. This film, and it's saga ahead, follow the life of that author, played by Eddie Redmayne as the new protagonist. There's a couple of references and the feeling of being cut from the same ambient cloth as the other films but otherwise it does a pretty good job of standing on its own though it would be helpful to be a fan who knows their Muggles from their Nimbus 3000's.
A large part of the driving force of the film is that Scamander's magical briefcase containing various magical creatures has been swapped with No-Maj(the USA's Muggle term) Jacob Kowalski's(Dan Foglet) and thus let loose into the city. Scamander encounters various new allies and enemies along the way on his quest to wrangle them and deal with the political situation of NYC.
The scenes and aspects which tie to that main creature-fetching arc are great. There's imagination to the various , realistically yet CGI critters, whether they be the adorable gold loving rodent Niffler, the mighty pachedyrm Erumpent, or Newt's personal allies(it's interesting to see his affinity and capability with animals) in the grassy Bowtruckle and avian Swooping Evil. A variety of very interesting, wonky, magical properties and scenarios are used to capture the beasts. Director David Yates fills these and other action and magical set scenes with his trademark franchise touch that will make it feel just like the classics and more.
The core crew takes a bit of getting used to. The absence of staples like Harry, Ron, Hermoine, and Hagrid is felt . But these new characters have their various merits. Redmayne's Scamander will take some getting used to as it appears he is purposefully an outsider with an awkward personality. At least hopefully that's the intention, as at times Redmayne can be hard to hear or moves quickly through conversations before we really get the chance to appreciate him. He is joined in time by the Goldstein sisters. Ex-Auror Tina(Katherine Waterston) has an intriguing premise but that's about all that is memorable. Her sister Queenie(Alison Sudol) brings a vibrant odd charm and telepathic powers that make her additions enjoyable. It's without a doubt that one of the most entertaining parts of the film is Fogler's Jacob. He is great at the “What the heck is all this” normal person role. The movie is perhaps the funniest Potterverse film yet and he is a big part of that. He has great chemistry with all of the heroic quadrio and his presence in future sequels is a much wanted one beyond his good arc in this film.
Various other characters and slightly muddled motivations fill the film besides the beast hunt. There's some various complex factions competing of the (surprisingly and lore enticingly) strict MACUSA(The US's magical society) led by President Seraphina(Carmen Ejogo) versus the fanatical anti-magic Second Salemers led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) with some side elements like USA Senator Shaw( Jon Voight) . It's here the more dramatic and darker elements come into play but feel clashing with the actiony, humorous adventures of Newt and co. It doesn't help that just a little too long yet also too little explanatory time is spent with them with characters that don't make too much of an impact. There is the involvement of Ron Perlman playing a motion capture goblin mobster named Gnarlack though which is entertaining.
A few characters do strongly rise to the surface in the intricate web. Colin Farrel's MACUSA agent Percival Graves provides the strongest intense edge the film. He brings a charisma and attitude that stand out in his side-plot of tracking down mysterious magical events in the city. So too does Second Salemer Credence Barebone(Ezra Miller) who's role must be seen but is unique and effective. And the trailer's do speak of a Grindelwald(Johnny Depp), who's name will be familiar to longterm fans but otherwise must be seen first hand too. By the end of the film, the dramatic threads become pretty epic.
It's a long film but brings back the musical and visual trademarks that will make one feel right back to Rowling's Pottterverse. Just like that film septology , the first one is an interesting introduction but makes one even more excited for where things will go. It's interesting to be transported to a lavish recreation of the 1920s and New York in any case, with an extra dose of magic. There's some strong aspects that one will look forward to more of and things that need to be proven. But for a fan, that makes this required watching, and a mostly exciting visual adventure romp for a first timer. 8.05 out of 10

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