Nov 21, 2016

[Movies] Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

While I'm not exactly the world's biggest Harry Potter fan or anything like that, I do have a healthy respect for the franchise and all that it has achieved. It's quit the juggernaut of fantasy fiction and it helped seriously launch the greater trend of genre fiction targeted towards young adults.

Now when word came out that they were starting a new series of movies with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I wasn't sure where all of this was going to go. After all, the actual source material was a very thin in-universe book meant to represent a reference book written by the movie's protagonist. So how does one make a movie out of that?

Apparently the answer is to get the author, J.K. Rowling, involve in the screenplay writing process and let her go crazy. So we end up with a wonderful new look at a different part of J.K. Rowling's magical world that certainly proves that she still has so many ideas for the Harry Potter franchise and certainly enough to sustain a good number more movies beyond this one.

Synopsis: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a 2016 British fantasy movie directed by David Yates. The screenplay was written by J.K. Rowling as inspired by her book of the same name.

It is 1926 and the story begins with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arriving in New York. With him New carries a mysterious suitcase that turns out to contain far more than it would appear to. But 1920's New York is one with a wizarding community that is quite paranoid about being discovered with groups like Mary Lou Barebone's (Samantha Morton) New Salem movement threatening to expose the magical community. Thus secrecy laws are strictly enforced and the ownership and care of magical creatures is forbidden.

But a mishap early after his arrive ends up with one of Newt's magical creatures getting loose, him getting arrested by Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) and his case accidentally falling in the hands of the "No-Maj" (No Magic) human Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger). And Jacob ends up letting the case get open, thus releasing a number of magical creatures apparently stored inside. Now Newt has to get Tina and Jacob to help him catch them and return them to safety before they meet harm under New York's stricter rules on magical exposure.

What I Liked: This movie works quite well even if you aren't fully immersed in the Harry Potter lore, which is quite an achievement in storytelling. Sure, it would give you greater appreciation for the movie if you understood all the references, but at the same time the movie was crafted in a way that opened the door for new fans. And I really liked that fact - that the movie did not feel overly burdened by all the stories that had come before.

At the same time, I appreciated also how different the American magic community is versus it's British counterpart and the differences were more than just rehashing old stereotypes. Beyond that, we got some great fun adventure scenes, fascinating new magical creatures and some surprising insights into the greater Harry Potter universe as a whole. Everyone is talking about just how brilliant the concept behind the Obscurus is and I have to agree. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

What Could Have Been Better: I kind of get how some people joke that this movie is like one big Doctor Who episode, and the comparison isn't entirely good nor entirely bad. I think my big concern is how Eddie Redmayne seems to be trapped in socially awkward character roles like Newt these days and he has a terrible habit of mumbling. Tina didn't have too much of an on-screen presence and I think we all appreciated the interactions between her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and the No-Maj Jacob a heck of a lot more. And that says something.

The villain yet not a villain element of the movie wasn't necessarily a bad thing, however the final reveal together with it's all-star cameo actor didn't quite thrill me. I wish they had cast someone else.

TL;DR: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a good-natured movie that is a lot of fun for both old fans and newcomers to the franchise. There's something for everyone and it just goes to show that J.K. Rowling has really grown as a writer and her explorations of writing for this medium are going to be most enjoyable in the coming years. Thus the movie gets a solid 5 magical creatures out of a possible 5.


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