Saturday, November 19, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Newt Scamander (right) and Jacob Kowalski capturing magical creatures in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

            Just because the final installment in the enormously successful Harry Potter film franchise was released a few years ago, does that really mean we’re done with J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World? Of course not, director, David Yates (Harry Potter 5-7 Part 2, The Legend of Tarzan) and producer, David Heyman (Harry Potter franchise, Yes Man, Gravity) have returned to the magical world of wizards brought to life through the pages of author, J.K. Rowling’s novels with a new prequel/spinoff franchise to the Harry Potter films, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, inspired by Rowling’s book of the same name.
            Seeing how Hollywood is heavily focused on bringing the past back to life, films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ghostbusters (2016), and The Hobbit trilogy, it makes perfect sense to do the exact same thing with the Harry Potter world. I was excited to see this, like everyone else, mainly because the film explores how the rest of the world views wizards and the events leading up to the rise of Voldemort and the “Boy Who Lived”.
            What was very refreshing about Fantastic Beasts is that the movie doesn’t have much of a literary reference for its screenplay. Yes, the film in inspired by a book, but it was written as a fictional guide to the creatures in Harry Potter.
            That’s pretty much an open gate for the filmmakers to just do whatever they want and create an original story around the creatures in Rowling’s book. Shortest response ever…they succeeded.
            Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is just as exciting and magical as the earlier Harry Potter films. The movie explores more of the mythology of the Harry Potter world, introduces new characters, throws a few references to elements like Hogwarts and Dumbledore in there, and delivers all the creativity and imagination that only J.K. Rowling can offer.
            The film follows a young man named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne-Les Miserables, The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl) who is a wizard from London, traveling to New York with a magic case. A case that holds creatures, Fantastic Beasts from the Wizarding World.
            After an accidental switch of cases with an American No-Maj (or Muggle) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler-Kung Fu Panda, Fanboys, Secrets and Lies), the creatures have escaped the case and are unleashed on New York City. So it’s up to Newt, Jacob, a former Auror of the Magical Congress of the United States and witch, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston-Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs, Alien: Covenant), and her sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol-CSI: NY, Transparent, Between Us) to capture the creatures and put them back into the case before a major catastrophe hits the world of wizards and muggles.
            The film also stars Colin Farrell (Daredevil, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) as Percival Graves, Carmen Ejogo (Away We Go, Selma, Alien: Covenant) as President Seraphina Picquery, Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Trainwreck, DC Extended Universe) as Credence Barebone, Samantha Morton (Sweet and Lowdown, Minority Report, The Messenger) as Mary Lou Barebone, Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Pacific Rim, The Book of Life) as Gnarlack, Jon Voight (Holes, National Treasure, Transformers) as Henry Shaw Sr., Ronan Raftery (Captain America: The First Avenger, Death of a Superhero, The Siege of Jadotville), Jenn Murray (Dorothy Mills, Brooklyn, Love & Friendship) as Chasity Barebone, Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) as Gellert Grindelwald, and Zoe Kravitz (X-Men: First Class, The Divergent Series, Mad Max: Fury Road) as Leta Lestrange.
            Overall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a satisfying return to the Harry Potter world as well as an exciting adventure movie on its own. It doesn’t hammer down references to what’s going to happen in the Potter films like a lot of prequels in the past, but rather expands the story and explores how wizards are viewed outside of England.
            This is obviously a cash grab due to the massive success of the Harry Potter films, but they don’t slack off in the film’s development. The filmmakers and writers had to work extra hard on developing equally likable characters that movie-goers and wizard enthusiasts would want to follow just as much as Harry, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger, and we did not have a book to refer to with these characters.
            I would gladly follow these new characters in a franchise, while they don’t stand as tall as Harry, Ron, and Hermione did, they’re still very likable and have unique personalities. Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Newt is very hit or miss, but I thought he portrayed the role well, Dan Fogler is hilarious as Jacob, and Colin Farrell pretty much steals the show as Percival Graves, he makes an excellent Harry Potter villain.
            Visually, I mean come on, it’s Harry Potter, of course it’s going to be impressive, the shots of New York, special effects, and CG animation all look great and they scream Harry Potter. The creatures are all very imaginative and look like they were straight out of a traditional Harry Potter book or movie, I’m serious, I could see an original Harry Potter character encounter these creatures.
            Fantastic Beasts is a ton of fun, but I do have some narrative problems, there are some scenes involving exposition and wizard laws that really don’t add up when you connect the film to the other movies. But once you get past those moments, it makes up for it with more magic and action.
            November has been a great month for magic-themed movies, we had Marvel’s Doctor Strange a couple weeks ago and now a new beginning to the Harry Potter franchise. This would make a great double-feature, see this and then follow it up with Doctor Strange and I can guarantee you’ll get all the magic you need for the holiday season.

            This is guaranteed to be a hit at the box-office for a few weekends and it shows that the world of Harry Potter can be experienced even without the presence of the titular character. Plus it’ll keep us nerds busy until Rogue One: A Star Wars Story comes out next month.

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