Like most kids of my generation, Harry Potter was everywhere. It was the next Lord of the Rings… er, for kids anyway. I doubt they waited a year until Hollywood made a movie on the first book. Naturally, the movie was both profitable and popular, despite opening side-by-side with the THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001).
Of course, as a kid, I loved Harry Potter like the rest of them. I stopped reading the books after Azkaban, but I always kept up with the movies. While I’ve seen all of them, I can’t say that I’m the biggest Harry Potter fan. Not on the same level as those that buy the merchandise or get tattoos. Star Wars wins over in that field (still no tattoos though). But I will always be interested in the fantasy genre and Harry Potter is most definitely a fantasy.
I truly thought if there was ever going to be a continuation of the film franchise, it’d be sequels, not a prequel of sorts. Again, I won’t claim to know anything about the characters presented in this film, I can safely say that I am excited for the star power alone.
Speaking of which, let’s take a look at that star power. Eddie Redmayne. Ever since THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014), I’ve been going nuts for this guy. He’s incredibly talented. Even when he’s in a movie that’s not so good (I’m looking at you, JUPITER ASCENDING ). My respect for the man only escalated after THE DANISH GIRL (2015), and became that actor. You know, if his name is attached to anything, I have to see it. That effect. Colin Farrell. Yes. Just yes, yes, and yes. Please, keep ’em coming. Say what you want about DAREDEVIL (2003), I thought he was a thousand flavors of fun. But he is a genuinely good actor. IN BRUGES (2008), SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012), SAVING MR. BANKS (2013), THE LOBSTER (2016), he’s such a great talent. And… well, that’s all who I’m familiar with, based on what I saw in the trailers.
Now for the crew. Directing is Harry Potter veteran David Yates, who directed ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2007), HALF-BLOOD (2009), and both Deathly Hallows, as well as THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016). He will also return for the planned sequel to this film. Penning the screenplay is… *double take* J.K. Rowling herself?? Well… damn, girl. I guess if you’re going to do Harry Potter right, might as well do it yourself. But you know what? A lot of writers have adapted their novels lately. Look at the amazingness that was ROOM (2015). Emma Donoghue wrote both the novel and the screenplay for the movie. I guess Rowling doesn’t want this tampered with. Composing the music is one of my favorite film composers on the market, James Newton god damn Howard! Aside from being the only really good thing about Shyamalan’s movies, Howard’s compositions are always gorgeous to listen to. He co-composed THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) and BATMAN BEGINS (2005) with Hans Zimmer, and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006), which is probably one of the most beautiful scores in the last ten years. I still find myself listening to it from time to time. This man’s a giant as far as I care. Finally, the composer is Philippe Rousselot, known for THE NICE GUYS (2016), both Sherlock Holmes films, and CONSTANTINE (2005).
I think I’m more excited for the talent than I am the addition to established lore and universe that is Harry Potter. It does look like a fun adventure flick and I’m sure I’ll like it just fine. Probably not nearly as much as the fanbase, but a good movie is a good movie, so let’s see how it holds up. This is my honest opinion of FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM.
Set during 1926. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a traveling wizard, writing a book about the many creatures of the world to educate the wizarding community and to also protect them from those that would otherwise harm them in his magical briefcase. His travels take him to New York in America where things are already off to a rocky start as he accidentally runs into Jacob Kowalski (Don Fogler), who has the same briefcase and get them switched. One of Newt’s creatures escape and while he gets their respective suitcases back, Jacob is exposed to the magical sights. But before Newt can wipe his memory, Jacob hits him with his briefcase and runs off. This causes Newt to be caught by a former witch police officer type, named Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who takes him to her headquarters for using magic in front of a No-maj, non-magic users. But when told to open the briefcase, it’s revealed that it’s full of pastries, as opposed to Newt’s magical creatures. When the realization of a second mix up happens, Newt and Tina must relocate his briefcase from Jacob, who is about to accidentally unleash those creatures upon New York.
It’s… alright. I think I have a friend who suddenly hates me now. Unfortunately, I did have quite a few problems with this movie.
First of all, its title is pretty misleading, as have been the trailers. If you’re anything like me and your only window into the plot of the story is the title or the trailers, then you should expect something very different from the final product. What do I mean? When you hear the title, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” automatically, you think Newt Scamander is going to be something of a benevolent hunter, finding magical creatures and putting them in his suitcase for study and safeguarding. However, there is… literally none of that in this movie. Yes, you get to peek inside his suitcase and it’s a big ole zoo in there, and it’s awesome. But the supposed creature you’d think he’d be hunting down in the film is revealed to not be a creature at all, but pure magic that’s kinda pissed off. But fine, that can be a nitpick. Jacob opens Newt’s briefcase and he has to hunt down the ones that escaped. That’d be a fine enough plot for the story… except it’s only half the story and not the intended focus.
You see, there’s a second plot to the movie… which is composed of a hundred subplots. A big bad wizard named Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has disappeared from the magical authorities, which is a big deal to its leaders who constantly reference him. There’s also this organization of No-majs that try to spread awareness of witches and the danger they pose. It’s ran by a woman who adopts children of witches and wizards that she beats. The magic authorities are trying to track down a destructive force that’s tearing its way across New York. One in particular, Graves (Colin Farrell), has visions of a little girl who is linked to this destructive force, and JESUS CHRIST ENOUGH ALREADY!!! And the worst part of all this: these plot lines have nothing to do with Newt, and none of Newt’s activities have anything to do with all this. He’s not there to track down the Obscurus or anything. He’s there on his own agenda and I feel like his involvement is pretty forced and not organic to the story.
Yes, the point is that Newt gets wrapped up in everything. Plenty of stories do that. Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. But the difference here is that Frodo’s involvement in the destruction of the One Ring is very early on the story. Luke’s involvement in taking on the Galactic Empire begins early on in the story as well. Newt’s involvement in hunting down this Obscurus thing doesn’t really happen until the middle of the story, and even that may be pretty generous to say.
Now let’s look into the core characters, which are the ones that I had the most problems with.
I do not understand Tina at all. I understand that she used to be the magical equivalent of a detective in her job, or something more respectable than what she is now, but something happened and now she’s in her lowly position… whatever that is. I also kind of get that she’s constantly trying to bring Newt in for his crimes in order to get in good with her superiors. The problem is, since she is one of the protagonists, we need to feel for her personal struggles and… we don’t know what they are. Context is needed. We need to know what she did, why she did it, and why it’s so important that she regains her more prestigious position and why it’s worth bringing Newt in, who is otherwise a good guy and eventual friend. But because none of this is explored, it comes across as that she’s just being a bitch. And it’s hard to see her as a bitch with her sad puppy eyes that constantly get close-ups.
But if she was the worst of it, then this movie would be downright good. Instead, I don’t think even the established world knows what to do with itself. Throughout the story, there’s a worry that the No-majs will discover the wizarding community and cause a war between the two sides. First of all, THAT’D BE AWESOME!!! Second, if there’s a big fear of it, why isn’t there more of an urgency to track down Newt’s escaped creatures? When the Niffler (a furry platypus creature with a penchant for kleptomania) escapes the first time, setting off this chain of events, does this movie honestly expect me to believe that no one in the entire bank ever saw it?! And I don’t care how well-trained your dog is. If your dog sees or smells something unnatural, it’s going to go berserk. But even if I let that one go, how does a dragon-like thing go completely unnoticed? How does an invisible monkey thing that’s always holding something not make a bigger impact? And how is there no zoo staff that sees a giant glowing rino-hippo creature trying to mate with a petrified hippo?! Why are the big-wig wizards not scrambling more to locate these missing creatures when Newt is arrested? And speaking of Newt, why isn’t he taking this stuff more seriously? Why is he sitting in that house, laying in the guest bed instead of, you know, finding his creatures!? I know he’s there to help Jacob with his bite, but as soon as he applies the… “cure,” “ointment,” or whatever the hell he did, he has no reason to stay in the house. Let Jacob stay there to fully heal while he attempts to stop the magical community from being exposed. Instead, he’s in their bed. I don’t recall a spell being cast to keep him locked in. And even if there was, that teleportation technique seems pretty handy throughout the movie. Why wouldn’t he just escape?
Speaking of Newt, never mistake me. I love Redmayne. He is one of the finest actors I’ve seen when given good material to work with. But his performance here is a little too… DANISH GIRL for my taste. He’s quiet and soft-spoken. Shy and rarely makes eye contact. While in DANISH GIRL the performance makes sense for the character, here it doesn’t. Newt may not need to be bubbly and highly energized, nor does he need to be a smartalick bad-ass with one-liners, but a deviation from shy and quiet would be a tad welcomed. I’d really like to see him develop into a stronger and more assertive character as the movies progress.
Now before anyone starts thinking that I hate this movie… which… would definitely seem that way, I think it’s time I start talking about the things I did actually like. Since I’ve been talking about the characters, let’s go on record and say that I absolutely loved Jacob and Queenie (Alison Sudol). Both are fantastic comedy relief and have probably one of the most precious romances that I’ve seen in a long time. I also have to give props, usually the “hooker with a heart of gold” character annoys me, but Queenie is written very well and is very likable. Yeah, I know she’s not a “hooker,” but she’s supposed to be a bombshell, really hot.
Oh and Ron Perlman as a gang boss troll? I never thought that’d be something I needed in my life, but… thank God I lived to see something so insanely awesome.
There’s also some really cool ideas. Like I said, a looming war between the No-Majs and the wizarding world would be amazing to see and that we’ll actually get that realized in the future. The action is fast-paced with high energy from the performers. The creature designs are fun and imaginative, and by extension, the special effects are top-notch. We’re finally given a reason to go out and explore the world of Harry Potter outside of Hogwarts and visit real locations. I’ve always been curious what wizards are like in America and I definitely got my wish here. I hear the next one will take place in Paris, so it seems like I’ll be seeing these films to the end if this trend of seeing other countries continues.
Overall, I was disappointed, but I won’t go so far as to say that I dislike the film. It has merit and is worth seeing if you’re a fan of the Harry Potter franchise. Also, some of teased ideas are phenomenally exciting and I don’t mind seeing the inevitable sequels. But as a pilot story, it’s not great or even very good. The story is unfocused, character choices got to be annoying, all lead by characters that are underdeveloped, excluding the supporting cast. I hope to see in the future Newt get some serious development and become a little more assertive, we see more of the extended world that’s been established, and maybe some actual hunting down and protecting of fantastic beasts. There is some wonderful potential here and I’ll be following this franchise, but as is, not the best start.
My honest rating for FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM: 3/5
- MANCHESTER BY THE SEA