The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.
Director: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman
Rated: PG-13 (some fantasy action violence)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
By Matt Greene
I love Rowlings’ Potter universe. The layered, diverse characters. The modern sentiments within classical aesthetics. The new yet recognizable good-vs-evil lore. Going into Fantastic Beasts, I fought hard not to let that pre-adoration paint this new branch too brightly too early. So when I felt myself snuggle in at hearing the familiar musical theme during the title sequence, I got a little nervous that Hedwig was carrying my critical credibility right out the window.
As the film played out though, I became more assured. Not that this matches the near-perfect heights of the original series; this new narrative isn’t as smooth or strong, nor is it trying to be. However, its lack of longing to match the import of its own predecessor allows it to be pure, magical fun.
Occurring nearly a century before the Battle of Hogwarts, we follow wizard-zoologist Newt Scamander as he tries to wrangle some mystical animals that’ve been unintentionally released in New York, but ends up uncovering a secret sinister plot by mysterious dark wizard Grindelwald. Scamander’s line, “My philosophy is: with worrying, you suffer twice”, really captures his childlike naiveté and endless wonder, a feel the entire film really hangs on. The characters are sincere, sweet and funny, including a disgraced American auror, her bombshell sister, and a lovably goofy no-maj (aka muggle; aka non-magical human).
That breezy tone carries the film past its shortcomings (pale comparisons, narrative clarity, slight fan-service) thanks to director Yates’ comfortable visual control and Rowlings assured handling of her own creation. Fantastic Beasts is a fun start to what will hopefully continue to be a uniquely emotional, surprisingly comical & morally intriguing fantasy-action series.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
By Cole Schneider
The first expansion of the Harry Potter cinematic universe isn’t worthless, but it does lack the charm to properly ensorcell its audience. While its beasts are fantastic and finding them is full of delectation, the story surrounding that comic element is such a stark reduction of literary value compared to the Harry Potter series that FB&WtFT ends up feeling woefully juvenile. Like most Hollywood franchises, it has fallen prey to placation, knowing that occasional duende is all that’s needed to please its desperate-for-another-taste-of-the-Potter-magic fanbase. It seems the studio is itself a sycophantic member.
That parasitic flattery brings us both something profitable and something cheap. On one hand it brings a loose spirit of adventure and some fun fish-out-of-water comedy. On the other hand it brings a lazy approach to storytelling. While we get to spend about half the movie enjoying a game of hide and seek between some mischievous beasts rollicking about 1920s New York City and a team of mismatched interlopers chasing after them, there is a severe paucity of worthwhile reasons to watch the other half.
The core story—a wizard who collects fantastic beasts accidentally swaps suitcases with a No-Maj (muggle) who releases them into the city, meaning the Magic world faces the threat of exposing themselves—is intertwined with a much more sinister, Salem Witch Trial-esque narrative. Not only is that component misguided from conception, but the execution of storytelling bares almost none of the professionalism (narrative focus, foreshadowing, satisfying exposition) author J.K. Rowling exhibited in HP.
Its closest comparison is the second HP film, which was certainly not the strongest. Still, you’ll enjoy part of the journey before the inevitable obliviation on the way home.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars