again, we finally get to see J.K. Rowling's magical world on the big screen in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
I must warn you though, while the film gives a few nods to the popular film
franchise, Fantastic Beasts does not
in any way feel like a Harry Potter
movie. And believe me when I say that's a good thing. It revisits the same wizarding
world but manages to give it a fresh take without depending too much on the Harry Potter franchise because honestly,
that chapter is well and done (and no, don't get me started on the eighth book).
I think it's largely due to the setting. Instead of present day London, we are taken across the world and back to the wizarding community of 1920s New York. The laws are different here and a lot more backwards regarding relationships between wizards and non-magical humans (referred to as the No-Maj). They're enforced by the Ministry of Magic's U.S. equivalent, the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) which is headed by the very stern President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo).
Redmayne takes us on this journey as the creature-loving Newt Scamander. His
performance breathed life into the character as he nailed that misunderstood,
socially inept, always-looks-at-his-toes persona. Although he did deliver some
of his lines in a muffled voice, his overall acting won me over.
carries with him a suitcase filled with a variety of whimsical creatures, from
the tiny Bowtruckle to the majestic Thunderbird. When the film introduces us to
these monsters, you can't help but stare at them in wonder. It's like going to
the zoo for the first time. These beasts are quite the characters themselves,
especially the kleptomaniac platypus-mole hybrid Niffler, who stole the show a
number of times throughout the movie.
However, because of a mishap involving a clueless No-Maj named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a number of Scamander's creatures are set loose on the streets of New York. It's really refreshing to see a non-magical protagonist in J.K. Rowling's world, as Kowalski naturally provides most of comic relief since he's seeing the magical side of things for the very first time.
Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a recently demoted Auror, attempts to bring
Scamander into custody for the numerous magical laws he's broken. Things don't
go as planned and along with her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), she ends up
helping Scamander and Kowalski find the missing creatures.
Even before that incident, tensions are already running high between the wizards and the No-Maj community as unexplainable disasters rock the city. Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) is trying to track down an Obscurus, a dark force that manifests when a child suppresses his magic. He enlists the help of Credence (Ezra Miller), one of the older orphans under Mary Lou's (Samantha Morton) "care", to help him find the magically-imbued child.
You may have noticed that I used quotation marks when referring to Mary Lou. These are needed because she is not, in any way, a kind caretaker. She is determined to expose the existence of wizards and wants them eradicated. Her presence onscreen is unsettling, sinister even. It's similar to that feeling you get when you watch young Tom Riddle burn down the cabinet in front of Dumbledore in the sixth movie. I felt bad for all the orphans under her care because she's like the devil in human form!
said that, here's a small warning: the film's portrayal of child abuse doesn't
hold back. It's a lot more pronounced than in any Harry Potter film and at times, it's very difficult to watch.
With dark themes being tackled, it's no surprise that Fantastic Beasts merits its PG-13 rating. It's directed by David Yates after all, the same guy behind the latter, more mature Harry Potter movies. If you like his style (which usually involves a dark, brooding tone), then you won't mind the pacing of Fantastic Beasts. It's a bit uneven, with a few dull moments here and there, but it's nothing major that would make you walk out or fall asleep.
Since Fantastic Beasts is going to be a five part feature, J.K. Rowling is once again setting us up for a huge threat to the wizarding world in the form of Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), who is Dumbledore's greatest friend and rival. I'm still skeptical about Depp's casting, but upon remembering his portrayal as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass, I hope he brings something just as sinister to this new franchise.
Despite these ominous threats, Fantastic Beasts remains to be a whimsical piece of work as it shows the audience various new feats of magic. One scene in particular is when Queenie prepares a strudel using her wand. As the ingredients float around and prepare themselves, you will definitely "ooh" and "aah" as you once did when you were introduced to magic in the earlier Potter fims.
It may not provide the same experience as Harry Potter, but Fantastic Beasts will still leave you spellbound. J.K. Rowling and company have done a good job in adapting the wizarding world for an older audience while still making it a fun film for newcomers to watch.