When exploring new ground, sometimes we have to stumble in order to improve upon what preceded us. And other times we pave the way for greatness, where does this movie fit into the mix?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller
Director: David Yates
released on blu-ray March 28, 2017
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%, Audience Score 80%
The Guardian: ****/*****
David Yates is an English filmmaker who has directed both feature length and short films, as well as a host of television shows, television films, and mini-series. Yates rose to prominence after helming the last four Harry Potter films, and has won quite a few accolades in his time, including six BAFTA awards. Since then, he has gone on to direct the visual stinker known The Legend of Tarzan, and since then… Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
But was it any good?
I think that we can fairly safely state that Yates has a good record with J.K. Rowling adaptations, but I have to wonder if the hype train and guiding hand of Rowling didn’t have a lot to do with his previous successes. Whereas FBAWTFT draws on Harry Potter mythology without having much true direction of it’s own.
That being said, it IS an interesting film, without ever really standing on it’s own two legs. It’s more entertaining for fans of Harry Potter than the average film goer.
In the mid 1920s British wizard and magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has come to New York en route to Arizona.
He encounters the New Salem Philanthropic Society, run by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), which believes magic is real and bad. During the presentation, one of Newts creatures escapes from his briefcase and on his way to recover the Niffler, Newt bumps into another no-maj and aspiring baker, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). As a consequence, they swap cases.
Demoted Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) watches all of this, and then arrests Newt as an unregistered wizard. She takes him to the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) headquarters, they discover the baked goods inside, and Newt is released. At Jacob’s tenement apartment, several creatures escape from Newt’s suitcase.
Tina and Newt track down Jacob and suitcase, wherein Tina introduces them to Queenie (Alison Sudol), her mindreading sister. Queenie and Jacob hit it off instantly but American wizards can’t be with no-majs.
We then learn Newt has an Obscurus, a parasite that develops inside magically gifted children if they suppress their gifts. Newt then persuades Jacob to help search for the missing creatures. MACUSA officials arrest them and give them the death sentence, thinking Newt and compay are responsible for a mystery creature killing in the city. Director of Magical Security Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) accuses Newt of conspiring with dark wizard Grindelwald, but Queenie and Jacob rescue them and they escape.
Graves approaches Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), Mary Lou’s adopted son, and offers to free him from his abusive mother. Credence needs to find an Obscurus in turn. But Credence is the Obscurus’ host, and a strong one at that, as most hosts die before ten years of age.
Newt finds Credence, but is then attacked by Graves. Each side tries to coerce Credence to them, but aurors arrive and disintegrate the boy. Graves admits to unleashing the Obscurus, as he is Grindelwal in disguise. He wants to expose the magical community to the world. Luckily Newt has a Thunderbird, which can use rainfall over the entire city to erase all no-maj memories. Jacob must participate in this cleanse as well, and Queenie kisses him goodbye.
The movie ends with a secret gift from Newt to Jacob allowing him collateral to open his bakery, Newt leaving for Europe to write his book, and Queenie eventually seeking out Jacob regardless of the law.
As I mentioned already, it’s an interesting film, and definitely a welcome deviation from the Harry Potter franchise, but the plot feels thin in places, and it’s protagonists don’t seem overly invested in the larger problem of wizard prejudice and wizard terrorism. They are happy to collect their creatures until someone tells them otherwise.
Pros: It is an original story with interesting characters and headed by a rising star in Eddie Redmayne. The pace is nice and slow at the start, letting us explore the magic of this universe from a new perspective.
Cons: The action seemingly comes out of nowhere towards the end, and the stakes are raised almost inconsequentially. There are almost too many good things going on, and yet it is frustrating to learn this is not a stand-alone film, but a set up for a new franchise.
Runtime: 2 hours 13 minutes
Points of Interest: The name New Scamander appears on the Maurader’s Map in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was originally supposed to be a trilogy of movies, but has now been confirmed as a five part series.
Eddie Redmayne and friends breath fresh new life into a franchise which I can honestly say I thought was finished. And I’m fairly happy with the results. Granted, I’ve seen New York in film far too many times at this point to be excited about a 1920s fantasy version of the city, but all the same, it’s fun to see the wizarding world of Harry Potter expand outside of the United Kingdom.
This is a movie definitely worth it’s salt, given how difficult it is for prequels to get off the ground these days, but I will do you one better with a my review coming next week. A story for the ages, and my theory on how it attracted both fans and newbies will be a good one.