Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them, Film Reviews
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Film Review: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

FantasticBeastsMovies.com

J.K. Rowling and David Yates bring the Wizarding World to America. The result is something quite magical…


It isn’t until the final scene of Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them, when it’s suggested that magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) give his work-in-progress book the title “Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them”, that we are reminded of this film’s source material: a 128-page novelty guide to the creatures of the Harry Potter universe penned by J.K. Rowling in 2001. It may have seemed an insurmountable challenge to squeeze a feature film out of such little text, but one can always trust Rowling to face any challenge with energy and imagination. In Fantastic Beasts The Film, she has created a marvellous Wizarding World adventure, expanding her universe far beyond the Potter characters and single-handedly boosting TimeWarner’s share prices in the process.

Beasts, directed by Potter veteran David Yates from Rowling’s original script, opens with Newt arriving in New York, 1926, with a case full of mysterious magical creatures. As he’s momentarily distracted by a rally of the ‘Second Salemers’ (an anti-magic campaign group), some of Newt’s creatures escape into the streets. Hijinks ensue. Redmayne is arguably the film’s greatest asset: his Newt is profoundly kind and fascinatingly peculiar; smart but relatable. His gentle interactions with the Beasts (which are, though hard to keep track of, quite Fantastic) transform what could have been a one-dimensional zookeeper into an intensely likeable protagonist.

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Likeability is in no short supply with this cast: Katherine Waterston and Dan Fogler are standouts as Tina (a wand-permit officer and potential love interest for Newt) and Jacob (a friendly Muggle baker who’s swept up in the magical world following a chance encounter with Newt’s suitcase at the bank). These characters display such genuine warmth throughout the film, lacking Newt’s darker subtext and backstory, that one questions what role they need play in future sequels. As Tina’s flirtatious sister Queenie, Alison Sudol is reduced to a primary role as object of Jacob’s desire; Rowling is clearly trying to explore a different type of American female to “career woman” Tina, but Sudol wavers too close to overplaying Queenie’s blondness. Colin Farrell, as the enigmatic Graves, delivers one of his most impressive performances. Every scene he shares with Ezra Miller’s Credence is a case study in intensity and nuance; the darkness that unites these two figures has an air of sophistication equal to (if not greater than) the finest moments of Half-Blood Prince. Credence is a character to whom Rowling gifts much of the film’s exposition, but his payoff is spectacular. As his cruel mother, Samantha Morton injects an edge of sinister, sadistic Christianity into the Dolores Umbridge archetype. In smaller but notable roles are Ron Perlman as ‘Goblin gangster’ Gnarlack and Jon Voight (himself a passionate Trump supporter) as the father of Trumpian politician Senator Shaw. With such strong parallels to real-world division and hatred, there’s a sense the film’s political side could have been utilised better– however, this is a film about Fantastic Beasts…

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For a debut screenwriting gig, Rowling’s script is nearly flawless: humour and world-building are balanced brilliantly and Newt’s constant spouting of Beast facts never feels laboured. Yates, never accused of being a visionary director, doesn’t stray much from his Potter template, but with so many Beasts to show, has fun with the film’s more visually creative moments. James Newton Howard’s score blends Potter motifs with jazz-age Americana to enjoyable effect. Returning production designer Stuart Craig and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot present a New York that’s bustling with enchanted energy. The subtle (and not-at-all subtle) connections to the Potter canon are fun to hear, but the greatest delight fans will find in Fantastic Beasts is in the exploration of the day-to-day life of the adult wizard, something we rarely got the chance to see in the teen-focused original films. Apparition is not out of bounds in this film; nor do the Magical Congress have any issues with executing wizards who have misbehaved. The film (which is, after all, rated PG-13) begins to feel a little structurally messy when huge sections are devoted to light and colourful scenes of Beast-finding, abandoning the seemingly higher-stakes (and more cinematically-thrilling) wizarding conflict that’s brewing across town. Ultimately, though, these two sides of the story come together in a manner that’s satisfying and sets up a very exciting new series of big-screen Wizarding World adventures.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

With cynical, aggressive and chauvinistic films dominating Hollywood studio checkbooks, it’s reassuring to know that Warner Bros. are funding four more of Rowling’s smart, socially conscious tentpoles. On the prequel scale, despite its few flaws, Beasts cannot be compared to the dull indulgence of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films or childish stupidity of The Phantom Menace (not to say this isn’t a childish film, but in a refreshing, Mary Poppins kind of way). If what ye muggles seek is a blockbuster this year to bewitch and bedazzle child and adult alike, and establish a compelling new chapter in one of modern fiction’s richest universes, this fantastic film is where you’ll find it.

4-four-half-star

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