It’s very strange for me to say that I wasn’t expecting any new Harry potter-related movies to come out once the Anthology had ended. And yet, here we are, at the start of what appears to be a whole new Anthology! Will the venture back into the magical world be as good as we’d hoped?
Based on a screenplay adaptation of a VERY small side book written for charity, this is set during the 1920’s in America, long before the events of the Harry Potter series. Our new protagonist is a wizard named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who is on a journey to record and safeguard the many mysterious creatures that roam about. He carries his most recent specimens in a magic suitcase, but of course they do find ways to escape by means of Newt’s own errors and mistakes. The story is both an adventure ride of capers, and an introduction to the magical world in America which has not been shown in detail before.
Really, the synopsis can indeed be boiled down to that simple explanation, although in the same way you can boil down the Harry Potter books to “Harry find out he is a wizard, crazy events follow”. The details lie within everything that is happening around the main character, some of which he plays a part in, and some he only witnesses. And in a funny sense he isn’t in much control of what is happening around him, due to his blundering and introverted behaviour. He isn’t one who would particularly go out of his way to save the day – the only thing he cares for are the magical creatures that he has obtained, and their safety in a place where their importance is’t really all that respected.
He stumbles into a chaotic friendship with a No-Mag (Muggle to everyone else) named Jacob (Dan Fogler), and to give this guy credit, he does take the notion of wizards and magic being real quite well. Although being dazed from a bite kind of helped that along. It is these two actors together that provide the main batch of entertainment that is on offer here. Dan reminds me a lot of John Candy, someone who is constantly in trouble and in bad situations, but has a genuine heart of gold. He just elevates the scenes that he is within, providing some goofball humour that even when it doesn’t work, is still bettert that it was there rather than being serious. Eddie Redmayne captures Newt very well, he’s a good method actor and he has a lot of range to emote in this film. He’s sadly not the poster character that people will totally fall for, but he’s good enough to keep things moving along.
Additional performances of note also come from former Auror Tina (Katherine Waterston) who takes on the Hermione-ish role of casting a glaring eye at the buffoons around her. I wish she had some more moments to REALLY shine, , but all in all they just weren’t written into her character unfortunately, no fault of the actress at all who is wonderful. Alison Sudal as Queenie is given a fizzling personality that I really enjoyed. And Ezra Miller has a role that is honestly, a bit disturbing. It certainly couldn’t have been an easy one to translate to the big screen, so big props to him for that.
As for the creatures within that suitcase, their designs are right up to the standard of the Harry Potter series. All loosely based on animals we know, but still very different. The CG work is excellent and doesn’t stick out from the surroundings at al, they’re blended nicely. It is the variety that keeps their introductions interesting, even though one or two scenes were stretched too far. I mean, the mating scene was kind of dull and not that funny when I look back on it.
But as for the city itself, I think they got the feel of 1920’s New York down to a T. It feels properly genuine, and seeing the transitions between the No-Mag world, and the Magical World, were the times that really had me locked to the screen. That shit was always the most interesting parts of the books and movies before, ad that remains the same here. Even having America at that time being……. kind of a bunch of assholes? – feels right. It shows how things for wizards had changed between then and Potter’s time, and we needed to see some form of that. The Magic community wasn’t all cheery and hopeful, in the same way that the regular folk of that era weren’t in a good spot either. It works.
What doesn’t work for the movie however, is kind of hard to pin down and directly identify. The elements are all there – strong cast, well designed, nice CG, great setting, blend of light and dark tones to the emotional backbone, and so on. And yet I wasn’t blown over by…. any of it.
It was all very, VERY good for sure. But the primary implications of what was to come (which is shown from the first scene), don’t carry the weight they needed to be. They drop in small pieces that don’t join together to form a strong enough bond. This really is just Newt being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and running about when the big story is happening elsewhere. It had me feeling the same way I did about “Star Trek: Beyond” – it was all good and enjoyable, but I didn’t feel the importance of all that had happened. You see what I mean now, the problem is hard to pin down, but you know it is there all the time.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” works as an introduction to a new world, and return to the universe of Harry Potter. People are going to lap it up, and the next movies are going to have plenty in the pot to fund them. But right now, I feel a little disappointed at the results of what we were provided. It needed to solidify a strong bond for the audience with the new characters which I’m not sure it did. And even though the threats are evident, they needed a bit more gravity and interlocking connections. Like mentioned earlier, I had plenty of fun with this, it was very good. But with the Litmus Test of “Am I excited to see it again?”… the answer is a shocking “meh”. I’m just as surprised too.
Thanks for reading!