Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

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By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

Back some almost 20 years ago, in 1997, a story was released that brought joy and a new sense of imagination into the world. A story about a boy with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead who was whisked away to study at a school for wizards. Such was the introduction to Harry Potter. Then, in 2001, four years after the initial book’s release, the first film adaptation hit theaters and brought a vision and wonder to the words on the page. Eight movies later and the Harry Potter series is the second most financially successful movie series in history, with over seven billion dollars made at the box office worldwide. Now, ladies and gentlemen, the wizarding world of Harry Potter arrives back in theaters, with a new series from director David Yates: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

It’s 1926 on Ellis Island, New York, where magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives on a ship from England. Newt has a personal crusade for the protection of magical creatures: to prove they are not dangerous and for there to be tolerance for them (sounds like Hagrid, no?). He’s collecting magical creatures on his travels, after being put in charge of magical creature studies by Dumbledore himself at Hogwarts, which he carries in his bag of wonders. He arrives in America when there is conflict arising between the magic users and the No-Maj (the Muggles). Unfortunately for Newt, some of his creatures escape their temporary home, and he mixes up suitcases with a No-Maj factory worker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). With creatures on the loose, and the MACUSA (American version of Ministry of Magic), led by female president named Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) who holds a strong policy of no magical creatures, he’s taken in by ex-Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), trying to redeem herself within the MACUSA. Yet, the MACUSA has worse things on its hands, with a powerful creature out destroying the city and the killing No-Maj in the city, and now Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) has more than he wants to handle. It will be up to Newt, Tina, and a cast of helpers to recover his lost creatures and stop this new threat which is set to sever the distance between No-Maj and wizarding worlds.

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Heading into Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it would be best to put any thoughts of what you expect based on the Harry Potter films out of your mind, because this is not Harry Potter. Gone is the light-heartedness, the child-like moments, the coming -of-age, and the fun of being a student at school again. These are now adults who live in a darker world, where their choices and decisions have consequences, and those consequences can mean the death of others, or their own. Yet, the foundation laid in the original Potter films still exists. There is still the world of non-magic users and that of the magic users, and keeping that from the normal population is still paramount. Though you may not hear the word “patronus” mentioned, there is still magic firing out of wands and wizards and witches doing battle. Though Diagon Alley is not available, the world of elves and other magical creatures still exists. One of the great things about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first of a five-movie storyline, is that it feels as if our characters have so much more story to tell. Much as it was with Severus Snape or Albus Dumbledore, from the moment we met them in the first Harry Potter book/film, it felt like there was much more story to be told about these characters than met the initial eye. Also, bringing the wizarding world to New York circa the prohibition age and taking the setting away from Hogwarts and putting it into the United States, into an entire city, where the effects of wizarding can be felt among an entire populace on a much greater scale, adds a more vast feel to the overall world of Harry Potter. The stakes are definitely enhanced with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

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Eddie Redmayne is the heart and soul of the film, and, honestly, one of the top rising stars over the last five years. He tends to envelope himself in his character, and his portrayal of Newt is no different. Here we have a wizard who is an expert in his specialty, yet feels completely out of place in the world. His awkwardness and seeming unfamiliarity with the No-Maj world comes through not only in gazes and facial expressions, but also in his body language. While he knows what he must do, there is an air of uncertainty and worry. And maybe that goes with the difference between magic users and No-Majs, the fear that has built and the bigotry that is underlying. Yet Redmayne conveys so much with his dictation of words and how he carries himself on screen to allow so much more to come through than only the spoken word. Dan Fogler is our entertainment over the course of the film, garnering the most laughs and lightheartedness, mainly through his surprise of the magic world as well as the effects the world of magic have on him. Katherine Waterston takes a more complex look at her character, as one who has fallen from the graces of where she wants to be, with the heart to do whatever she can to obtain her status once again. Yet she struggles with doing what she knows would be best for her career with doing what she believes deep down to be right. It’s a fun struggle for us to watch, adding more conflict with her character which brings further life to the character. Colin Farrell, on the other hand, just gives off negative energy, and you know, somewhere, somehow, he is going to have a big part to play, one way or the other. Could he be the new Severus Snape or will he be the new “He Who Must Not Be Named?” Time will tell…

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them provides a fresh start to the Harry Potter series, and as a prequel at that. No longer is this a film geared towards children or adolescents, but more towards the adult population in which the characters live. That’s not to say kids and adolescents will not enjoy the film, because I’m sure they will. I just reference the fact that this is more adult-oriented, with adult characters and adult life experiences. At times, it may feel as if we’re watching two separate movies, with two entirely different plot follow-through points, yet they do eventually intersect, tying in the two arcs and bringing about a character from the Potter films of old. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is not the Harry Potter we all grew up with, for better or for worse. It may not be as fantastical, maybe not as entertaining for some, and maybe not as adventurous or fun, yet there are plenty of redeeming qualities which abound: quality acting, a fresh taking on the wizarding world, new faces, and some interesting set pieces and ideas. Plus, with this being the first in a new five movie franchise, there is much more story to be told, characters to be grown, and magic for us to experience.

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Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


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