Originally written on November 23, 2016
Reviewed by: Nick Poulimenakos
Time to review my second most anticipated movie of 2016! *MILD SPOILERS*
I’ll be the first to admit that when I first discovered the Harry Potter film and novel series approximately 5 years ago, I was not a fan. There was something about the franchise that I just disliked and so, unlike more children and teens, I stayed away from the Potter series for a while. Around this time however, my younger sister became a massive fan of the series, reading every book and watching each film. My family even took a trip to the then recently opened “Wizarding World” at Universal Orlando Resort. Despite the trip and my entire family being fans, I still maintained my dislike for J.K Rowling’s franchise. A year went by and my sister continued nagging me on why I haven’t given the movies a chance. So I decided to sit down and dedicate several hours to watching the entire Harry Potter film series, which at this point, had come to an end. I spent an entire weekend viewing each film and immediately fell in love with the series. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t like these movies when I was younger and constantly questioned why I hadn’t started watching these films earlier. I credit my younger sister with my love for this series. It has been 4 years since my love for Harry Potter came to light and since then, I have become a die-hard fan. So naturally, when Warner Bros. and J.K Rowling announced a new film in the series, I was extremely excited. I would finally get the chance to see a wizarding world film in the movie theatre for the first time. The studio announced that the film would be a prequel-spinoff and be set in the 1920’s. Although hesitant at first, I became curious as to what J.K Rowling had instore for the world. The result? Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. A film that offers a new and exciting experience for fans of Harry Potter and embodies cinematic magic that demonstrates a triumphant return to the wizarding world.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, based off of the 2001 novel by J.K Rowling, follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) a magizoologist who holds a magical briefcase that contains several of the fantastic beasts. While visiting New York, Newt’s briefcase is switching with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a no-maj who unknowingly lets numerous beasts loose into the city. This grabs the attention of Tina Goldstein (Katherine Goldstein) who agrees to help Newt and Jacob track down the beasts along with her vibrant sister Queenie (Alison Sudol). While the rag-tag group of heroes search the streets, a dark force manifests in search of an even darker power that could possibly add to the looming threat of a civil war within the wizarding world.
Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of the complex, complicated but wondrous Newt Scamander is fantastic. Eddie beautifully demonstrates the child-like wonder in Newt’s eyes while also showing how much he deeply cares about the beasts he has in his case. Newt is the character who isn’t very social and finds a deeper connection with his resident beasts that he can’t find with the humans of the world. He is the type of protagonist that is very different from Rowling’s resident “boy who lived.” Redmayne displays immediate likability that makes you genuinely care for the character. From the opening sequence of him arriving in New York with a sense of curiosity and wonder in his eye to the final action sequence where Newt demonstrates immense bravery and willingness to help others, Newt is character that will make you smile whenever he appears on screen.
The real show-stealers of the film however come from Dan Fogler’s no-maj Jacob and Ezra Miller’s troubled character, Credence Barebone. Much like Redmayne, Fogler has a sense of immediate joy whenever he experiences the exciting nature that is magic. It’s interesting to see magic from the perspective of someone who is seeing it for the first time, something that I don’t believe was touched upon in the main Harry Potter film series. Fogler brings this grounded charisma and energy that bounces off Newt’s awkward demeanor very well. I found Ezra Miller’s character to be the most surprising of the new cast. He plays a character who, up until the film’s release, was shrouded in mystery and secrecy. Upon viewing the film, I immediately loved his character. Ezra demonstrates a wide range of emotions for Creedance and becomes possibly the most complex character in the film. His character arc is one that transcends over the course of the two hour and thirteen minute film and culminates into a very excited third act of the movie. I’m excited to see where they take his character next and see where he fits into future movies.
On top of introducing the new group of heroes, Rowling introduces us to several new characters such as Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves, a high ranking auror (more on him later), Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), who is a no-maj activist who detests wizards and witches, and MACUSA (governing body for magic in the USA) President, Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo). Rowling successfully incorporates each character in an already action-packed story, demonstrating her improvement in world-building. Each character served a purpose in the film and while some didn’t get as much time as others, each character is given a fine payoff by the end of the film.
I will say right now that in the main Potter series, Dolores Umbridge was the character I disliked the most. That title now belongs to May-Lou Barebone. I have never hated a character so much on screen before. Now, that doesn’t mean I hated the performance. Samantha Morton plays Barebone exquisitely to the point where every time she was on screen, I had a look of disgust because of how evil the character really is.
This film reunites Rowling with Harry Potter mainstays, David Yates (director of Harry Potter 5-8) and producer David Heyman. The cinematic beauty that was found in the original eight films can definitely be found in this new chapter. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them evidently keeps up with the themes of wonder, curiosity and fear of persecution that made audiences fall in love with the original series. Yates manages to successfully juggle over a dozen or so of the said beasts without it hurting the film in any way. While still having call-backs to the series that started it all, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is able to successfully stand on its own feet, submersing the viewer into a whole new era of magic thanks to Yates’ experience and Rowling’s beautifully written script. Both had the daunting task of building a world that was clearly much bigger than what was seen in the Potter films. But thanks to an increased budget, beautiful visual effects and simple yet obvious setups for future films, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them effectively brings us to an astonishing time in the wizarding community.
Before I talk about the negatives, let me just say that James Newton Howard’s score for the film is among the best I’ve ever heard. It is a phenomenal musical composition. While still having the common riff made famous by John Williams in “Hedwig’s Theme,” Howard composes a breathtaking musical score that embodies the magical nature of the film so well. He personifies the marvelous and curious spirit of the characters that expresses something extremely exhilarating and new to discover.
On the negative side, we have a number of things. The first would be Collin Farrell’s Percival Graves. Now, this isn’t a knock on Farrell’s performance as I absolutely loved the character. The negative comes from there not being enough of him. While he serves his purpose in the story, his character seemed to get lost in the shuffle as the story went on before making a return near the end in an over-blown CGI action sequence. He is a character that I could have been expanded upon but I was still happy with what I got nonetheless. The same can be said about Carmen Ejogo’s President Picquery. A character that was rather confusing in my opinion, Picquery rapidly jumped between being concerned president to mean superior and it took away from her supposedly being a strong leader in the wizarding world of the USA. The film also implores a large amount of CGI effects instead of practical effects. Given the nature of the film, it is understandable that the film would make use of the growing advancements in CGI, however, having less CGI characters and a more practical effects driven finale for example, would have given the film an even more exciting appeal.
As for the titular fantastic beasts, they are visually stunning and exciting to watch. The film shows around a dozen of the beasts Harry Potter will study in the future such as the mischievous “niffler,” a beast that constantly escapes Newt to steal various items, the Thunderbird, who makes a fantastic debut near the end of the film, and the “erumpent,” a beast with a similar build to the rhino. The beasts are fun to watch and share the same wide-eyed discovery that Newt does when they arrive in New York.
It has been known for a while that Johnny Depp was going to make an appearance in the film as the new overarching villain, Gellert Grindelwald. While his time in the film is extremely minimal, it is impactful and sets up future films perfectly.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them introduces the world to a fresh and breathtaking portrayal of magic in the wizarding world, independent of students and school. Instead of seeing children and teenagers discovering how to use and harness magic, we are shown adults who have already learned what magic is and demonstrate a grow-up understanding of witchcraft and wizardry. The film provides solid groundwork to build upon and magnificently captures a world that is bright-eyed and uneasy at the same time. The movie opens up the door for the four future sequels and yet, still manages to satisfy viewers as a standalone movie. I am extremely excited to see where Rowling takes these four main characters next while introducing familiar and new characters along the way.