Directed by David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Alison Sudol
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” may not be the perfect return to the magical world of Harry Potter that most fans envisioned but for what it’s worth it’s a return worth watching.
Director David Yates brings back much of the same sense of wonder and imagination that we all viewed in his previous Harry Potter films and even if the story’s writing is lacking a bit, it’s an enjoyable escape for fans who’ve missed the wizarding world the last few years.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” tells the story of English wizard and magical zoologist Newt Scamander who travels to the US to return a magical creature to it’s native land in Arizona but runs into some issues when his magical briefcase with all his creatures gets swapped on accident with a no-mag named Jacob. In doing so he becomes tangled up with an ex auror of the American wizarding government named Tina Goldstein and in the tracking of mysterious magical occurrences throughout the city that may or may not be connected to a dark fugitive wizard named Grindewald.
Much like the other stories in Harry Potter, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” largely succeeds because of its unique and relate-able characters. Eddie Redmayne is enjoyable as the strange, yet compassionate Newt Scamander with his quirky mannerisms and dedication to his research. Katherine Waterson is equally enjoyable as our bridge to the American wizarding world through Tina as her own sense of duty to her fellow wizards and witches and empathy for others shines bright in the story. Alison Sudol is great too as Tina’s more sensual but kind-hearted sister.
What’s interesting though is that the most enjoyable character of the story is actually Harry Potter’s first real non-magic character in Jacob. In many ways Jacob represents us and how we would likely all react to this strange and wonderful world that wizards live in. Dan Fogler does a great job of not only providing much of the film’s best comedic moments but also reminding us of that same childhood joy we all had when we read/watched “The Sorcerer’s Stone” for the first time as kids. In some ways the film may have even been better had it centered on him. He’s a classic fish out of water character, with a unique understanding/lack thereof of the wizarding world and it’s a joy to watch.
(Seriously, my favorite character in this new series. He’s us!)
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is perhaps too the darkest take on the Harry Potter world yet, with some slightly disturbing death sequences that might frighten the kids in the audience and the introduction to a strange new magical parasitic lifeform called an obscurus. These aren’t bad things but they don’t really make the story any better either.
The problems, though, with the film have more to do with lapses in logic and a whoooole lot of deus ex machina.
It’s kind of impossible to explain this without spoiling anything so proceed onward at your own peril…
(SPOILERS: Don’t get mad at me later)
Colin Farrell’s character, Percival Graves, is completely underwritten and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. At the end of the movie it is revealed that he is in fact Grindewald but not much is explained on how he was able to infiltrate MACUSA (America’s Ministry of Magic). Was Graves an alias for Grindewald to sneak into MACUSA? If so, how long has he been just hiding since everyone speaks to him in the movie like they’ve known him for a while? Was Graves actually someone before this and Grindewald took his place to infiltrate MACUSA? If Grindewald’s plan was to find some great powerful boy wizard in New York, what was he doing in MACUSA in the meantime? Sorting out paper work and doing boring office work?
(Not to mention a fairly questionable hire of Johnny Depp…)
The Obscurus also feels like a convenient plot substitute for what would be a doomsday weapon in almost any other movie; it feels lazy. Also considering how little Harry knew about his own magical powers before the first book you would think maybe he would’ve developed the same ailment. In fact considering how huge the world is and how often a wizard is born to non-magic parents, as established throughout the series, why isn’t there just obscurus’s running rampant around the world? This introduction to this new wizarding ailment is weird and confusing.
It seemed a little too convenient too that Newt happened to be studying basically magic roofies which ended up being used to help obliviate all of New York after the attacks at the end too.
(What were you really studying, Mr. Scamander?)
Also, as petty as it sounds, in world featuring, wizards, witches, goblins and dark matter creatures, what’s perhaps most bothersome is that there would be a woman of color running the American Wizarding government in the 1920s. I think it’s safe to assume that American wizards in the 1920s were about as progressives as their no-mag counterparts in that era. Just saying…
But to paraphrase a line from Mystery Science Theater 3000 “Just repeat to yourself it’s just a movie; we should really just relax.”
(Rowsdower could’ve stopped the Obscurus!)
These aren’t problems that are big enough to ruin the obvious splendor and charm of the movie and its characters but they are enough to keep it from being truly great.
With its dazzling cinematography and special effects, alongside its colorful band of unique and interesting characters, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a triumphant return to the world of Harry Potter even if the writing is a little less magical.
3.5 out of 5
Until next time…