Last edited by Jam&Jerry on 2022-6-15 10:30 Editor


‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’: Fantastic to See, But Hard to Find

Fantastic beasts they certainly are, but an overabundant narrative leaves characterization and narrative function threadbare.
Originally written by J.K. Rowling to benefit Comic Relief, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sees its filmed adaptation come to  fruition and Potter fans better prepare for a feast of delights! Five years after the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, this prequel-ish extension of the existing mythos is beautifully filmed, set and costumed, with a bevy of cute animals and exciting characters. Much of the film’s rapid-fire entertainment value and slick filmmaking style do a lot towards covering up the weak narrative excuses, particularly by story’s end.

In 1926 Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) travels to New York to find a sanctuary for his amazing creatures. Unfortunately American wizards want to keep their magic on the down-low and when Newt’s creatures escape it threatens to expose the invisible world.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’s title is half true. Eddie Redmayne’s earnest, Doctor Who-ish Newt arrives in 1920s New York with a suitcase full of amazing finds. But America’s banned magical beasts and wishes to remain invisible to the “No-Maj” (non-magic humans). Scamander plans to release some type of massive eagle – leading one to wonder if it’s an homage to The Rescuers Down Under – and has to catch a Gizmo-esque platypus called a Niffler. The cute creature design and the Niffler’s sticky fingers make for a bevy of humorous moments as Scamander keeps capturing it, shaking it free of its booty. The phenomenal set and creature design give everything a lived-in quality, from the streets of New York to Scamander’s suitcase zoo. The creatures themselves have distinct personalities without requiring exorbitant exposition, though the Niffler gets the most screentime.

The “finding” of the beasts also introduces the film’s neutral character, no-maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Kowalski represents the people coming into this film as cold as one can be in a Potter-filled universe. He’s introduced via sitcom conventions, with him and Newt accidentally swapping briefcases. His scenes opposite Redmayne, again front-loaded, allow for the introduction of Newt’s creatures. When the two enter Newt’s Mary Poppins meets Tardis briefcase, it’s amazing. Fogler is fun and his scenes opposite Alison Sudol as Queenie, Katherine Waterson’s flapper sister, are fun.

J.K. Rowling makes her screenwriting debut to transform a mock textbook into a launchpad for an entire expanded universe. So it’s understandable that things feel bloated. Clocking in at over two hours there are two distinct halves: the finding of the “fantastic beasts” and the main plot regarding….a bunch of things. Newt’s attempts to recapture the Niffler and the other creatures from his case have clear-cut narrative trajectory and consequences.

Rowling’s world outlines it clearly: no magical creatures, so Newt’s necessity to get everything back has stakes for his character. This half also introduces Jacob and Newt’s friendship and  explains why Waterston’s Tina is hell-bent on getting Newt in front of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). But because Rowling and company have five movies to prepare, there’s not nearly enough plot here to sustain future films. Thus, the rest consists of a bizarre, half-baked premise involving poltergeist-like entities and a evangelical religious cult called the New Salemers helmed by Samantha Morton’s Mary Lou.

The New Salemers storyline allows for some great performances, particularly from Morton and Colin Farrell. Farrell, for his part, stalks every scene as the titular baddie, manipulating Ezra Miller’s Credence. However, the third act melts into a mess; characters are killed purely to make room and allow for Harry Potter comparisons. We’re also “treated” to a blatant cameo merely that’s included to set up a sequel with all the surprise of a Scooby Doo villain. (I know the cameo’s been ruined on social media, but I refuse to give the actor any additional prominence.)

What’s odd is Rowling forecasts the election results: a band of outcasts defeat religious zealots and an all-powerful male wizard with weird hair, and their President is a woman. But she never goes beyond the surface. The logic that these characters pay off in a sequel doesn’t work because it leaves this film with little to get newcomers invested. As she starts frantically tying and severing loose ends characters like Carmen Ejogo’s Madam President aren’t developed. Katherine Waterston’s Tina comes off like a soupy “forgotten woman” who doesn’t know any emotion but dour. Waterston’s muted personality is the saddest thing because she’s great in other movies. Instead we’re treated to a perpetually teary-eyed wizard version of her character from Steve Jobs.

Harry Potter experts will eat up the film’s new world, as well as the references to your favorite Hogwarts gang. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is beautiful to look at and whimsical. The first half is significantly better than the second, though, so be prepared for a lot of unanswered questions.

Orginal Review by Kristen Lopez: