Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ReviewRating:

7 out of 10

Cast:

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander
Katherine Waterston as Porpentina Goldstein
Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski
Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein
Ezra Miller as Credence
Colin Farrell as Percival Graves
Ron Perlman as Gnarlack
Samantha Morton as Mary Lou
Jon Voight as Henry Shaw, Sr
Carmen Ejogo as Seraphina Picquery

Directed by David Yates

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fun treat for Harry Potter fans, especially when the CGI creatures grace the screen. But a leading man that’s hard to warm up to, a slow pace, and situations that feel ripped from other films hold it back. Still, it’s worth seeing on the big screen over the holiday week.

Story:

In 1926, Newt Scamander arrives in New York City on a secret mission. Landing in the Americas for the first time, he doesn’t know anyone in the city, is unfamiliar with the local witches and wizards, and only vaguely knows their laws. What makes his situation even more precarious is that he arrives with a suitcase full of magical creatures, all of which are illegal to possess in the United States.

It doesn’t take long for one of the magical creatures to escape and wreak havoc in New York. As Newt pursues the creature through a bank, he meets Jacob Kowalski, a normal human (or “No-Maj” as they call Muggles in the U.S.) who is amazed by the revelation that magic exists. Newt also catches the attention of Porpentina Goldstein, an American witch and officer for the local magic regulators. But amid the chaos, more of the creatures escape.

As Porpentina arrests Newt for his ever-increasing number of infractions, he suddenly gets blamed for an invisible monster rampaging in the streets of the city. But Newt may be their only hope of reigning in the deadly menace.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is rated PG-13 for some fantasy action violence.

What Worked:

If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter books and films, then Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is going to be a treat for you. J.K. Rowling, who actually wrote the script for this film, reveals a little more of the magical world by taking us to the United States and showing us how they live there.  There’s actually an astounding amount of potential in this setting like Native American wizards, Voodoo witches, South American magic, and more, but Rowling only touches the tip of the iceberg here and just teases the audience with what might come. While all of the buildings and locations were very ancient in the UK, the magical locations in the US are modern (for 1926) and art deco. It’s an interesting contrast between the Old World and the New World.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is at its most fun when there are actually fantastic beasts on the screen. I’m not even going to attempt to quote their names, but each of them has distinct personalities and impressive designs that are engaging. When we finally get a chance to see what’s in Newt’s magical suitcase, it’s one of the most memorable scenes in all of the Harry Potter series of films.

One of the fun things for the audience is that we get to explore this world through the eyes of Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski. He provides much needed comic relief in the story and his sense of enthusiastic wonder at everything he’s discovering is a refreshing contrast to the fear and loathing of the other characters. Not only is this No-Maj great in interacting with the magical beasts, but he’s well paired with Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein. His absolute infatuation with Queenie seems genuine and even as she’s reading his every thought, he’s totally into it. It’s kind of like Tony Shaloub’s character in Galaxy Quest. No matter how mind-blowing something he encounters is, he enthusiastically rolls with it.

The rest of the cast is also strong. Katherine Waterston is solid as Porpentina Goldstein. She is a bold spirit yet struggles with the Wizard leaders in her world. Ezra Miller is quite tortured as Credence. His role is so dark that playing Flash in Justice League is going to be a complete 180 change for him. Colin Farrell is excellent as usual as Percival Graves. And fans of Ron Perlman will be happy to see him in a brief role as a goblin named Gnarlack. And then there was a surprise cameo towards the end of the film that got the audience abuzz and bodes well for future sequels. Try to avoid finding out who it is before going in. You’ll enjoy it more.

Fans of the Harry Potter series will also be pleased to discover Easter Eggs left by JK Rowling throughout the film. There are references to Dumbledore and other characters. In one scene a familiar symbol is spotted. Just keep your eyes and ears open along the way.

My son, who is a big Harry Potter fan, walked out of this movie quite happy. He was talking about the twists and turns in the film, the various creatures, and the Easter Eggs. So if you have a family of Potter fans, this is a film you’ll all enjoy seeing together.

What Didn’t Work:

While I enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it did have issues. First of all, it’s quite dull for long stretches. Basically any scene that did not have magical CGI creatures kind of dragged on. And as cool as it was to get a peek at magic in the United States, it’s not nearly as fanciful and amazing as that in the UK and the Harry Potter world. Art deco wizard headquarters are cool, but not as fun as a castle.

But my main problem is with Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander. He’s a hard character to warm up to. I recognize that was done on purpose. In fact, Newt even says that people tend to not like him. But the character is so shy, meek, and awkward that you want to kick him and tell him to sit up straight, look Porpentina in the eye, and speak up. It’s only when Newt is dealing with the animals that he opens up and becomes likable. Also having Jacob Kowalski alongside him providing comic relief makes him a lot more bearable as well.

Watching the film, there was a lot familiar with it. In one scene as a building is being magically reassembled, my son leaned over and said, “That’s like Doctor Strange.” In another scene when there is a tiny plant creature, my other son leaned over and said, “That’s like Baby Groot.” As the wizards and witches erased people’s memories, my older son again leaned over and said, “Men In Black.” Later, as Colin Farrell’s character interrogates Newt, it felt a lot like his role in Minority Report (an issue not helped by the fact that Samantha Morton, another Minority Report alum, plays Mary Lou). In short, it was a lot of familiar stuff re-wrapped in Harry Potter wrapping paper.

The Bottom Line:

Is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them the best Harry Potter movie? No, not at all. Is it worth taking the time and money to see in the theater on the big screen? Absolutely yes. It’s one of your better options over the Thanksgiving holiday, especially if you liked the previous books and films. And considering we pretty much all expected the book to be closed on Harry Potter after the last film, revisiting the world is a wonderful treat.