Reviews: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
Good for worldbuilding, but with some flaws
First, this is a pretty good expansion on the Harry Potter universe, and we get a glimpse of the US version and their different culture and law (in a different era). It also brings to life many magical creatures and their properties. The problem is that most of the magical creatures seem to be shoehorned into a section in the middle of the film. A large portion of the plot, that is, what starts at the background in Act 1 and becomes the foreground of act 3, is what really drives the story. It's about the war against Grindelwald and finding the source of the Obscurus. This is where people with agency, decisions, goals, actually act. The whole monster-chase part is, essentially, filler. It's fun, there's lots of CG (some good, some bad), but the monsters are just dumb monsters. They have no goals other than base instinct, so it's just about finding them and getting them back into the briefcase. Other than a Niffler at the beginning which basically sets up the characters meeting, the film basically stops to show off some monsters every few minutes but does nothing to drive the plot forward. But hey, that's the movie title. There's just no real plot to the monster-finding part of it. Also, regarding the main character: I definitely have mixed feelings about him. For one, he's obviously an introverted type with anxiety around other people - not the usual kind of hero, so I applaud the writers for trying to put that kind of character in the limelight. At the same time, he's almost oblivious to the trouble he's causing, and most of the problems really are his own fault. Not just the initial monster release, but almost all the difficulty in recapturing them were really just blunders on his part. So I find it hard to root for him. Most of the other characters are enjoyable, though. Unfortunately, this appears to be slated for a whole series, and I'm not sure if I'd enjoy seeing Newt Scamander again.
A real expansion of the Wizarding World
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them surpassed my expectations and turned out to be one of the most legitimate franchise films around. It's teeming with moments of wonder and with information that expands themes. Fantastic Beasts really puts in the groundwork for the upcoming 5 films. It's riddled with details that enhance your understanding of Harry Potter and future events. It's not just mysteries either. Fantastic Beasts is so good as a standalone film that it made me wonder if each of the 5 were going to be standalones, with completely different characters and subplots, but all coming together to build up the bigger picture. There are signs of the bigger picture everywhere. Tension is rising in international Wizard politics, Muggle relations are more hostile, there's an ideological conflict about might and suppression coming forward. It's got some interesting problems it's trying to solve and its solutions tend to be fairly inventive and interesting. -The Harry Potter books got darker as their audience aged up. Anything now has to satisfy new kids and old fans. So the film layers in some really dark and important themes in one subplot with joyful innocent and magical wonder in the other. - Fantastic Beasts has to satisfy fans who've memorised every line of Pottermore and people who only saw the films. So they added details to the films which aren't distracting to a casual viewer but actually reward people who know the background with early access to the plot. Unfortunately some of the mechanical storytelling fundamentals are wrong. People's backstories characters get introduced to late. Love interests don't do anything to establish their love. Characters arrive at a place only to leave, go to another place and then immediately return. And almost everyone overacts. Jacob, the outsider to the wizarding world, is fantastic, but everyone else has so many affectations and facial ticks it can feel like the Uncanny Valley effect. Those problems aren't enough to stop the film from being great. This is a film that gets better with thought. Now lets hope the franchise can survive that horrific casting decision at the end of the film.
A Two hour Long Short Film
I can appreciate that the appeal of Eddie Redmayne seems to largely depend on whether you are a seventeen year old girl, but I don't think even a bobby soxer could get enough out of this guy to sustain them over two very full hours. For people like me, the most appealing character in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is Jacob, a schlubby baker who gets dragged into a confusing, prolonged mess. He's very relatable. The film largely consists of the exploits of Newt Scamander. His crappy name shows his origin; a pun for a throw away character Rowling invented for a reference. Now he's got to make do with it for an entire movie. Newt is a meek zoologist who accidentally lets loose a suitcase full of magic animals on New York. Most of this movie consists of him tracking them down. The movie feels like a series of vignettes, going from Newt chasing a cute hoarder marsupial in one section, to tracking a horny Rhino (in every sense) the next. It's fun for a bit but it outstays its welcome, taking nearly the whole movie. The actual serious plot thread is severely underdeveloped and is only brought to the forefront once Newt has caught enough CGI monsters. Because of that, there isn't much of a tension or a driving force to the movie. Jacob remains the only character who has any real long term ambition, and the fact that he can neither do magic nor stop people removing his memory makes him the only one with real stakes. But he isn't the main character, Newt is, and he does nothing but catch animals and stutter charmingly. Oh, he does also make some social commentary too. It doesn't work. Newt complains about draconian American society, with pompous magicians, bible-bashing witch haters, and a general dim view on wildlife conservation. Unfortunately the film makes the bad movie mistake of showing too much justification for the backward mentality, with wizards powerful enough to repair the greatest devastation, magicians happy to execute people on a whim, and animals that are constantly causing mayhem to unsuspecting people. Plus its a little ill-advised to make reference to anti-miscegenation laws too, in a movie that has an almost entirely white cast. To cap it off is one scene set in a speakeasy that shows all the cultural sensitivity of a George Lucas Star Wars prequel. What Fantastic Beasts has is a good idea for a short film, but it has been stretched to two hours to make a plodding, aimless and somewhat dull movie. The Harry Potter universe could do with an expansion beyond tweedy English boarding schools, but this is hardly the best way they could have gone about it.
Good, but not Great
We travel once again into the magical world of Harry Potter, several decades before the rise of You-Know-Who and the birth of The Boy Who Lived, by following the misadventures of Newt Scamander in America and discovering his Fantastic Beasts. In this misadventure we get a treat of a film that is a decent follow up to the masterpiece of its predecessor but stumbles a little on the execution. The biggest fault of the film is the story, or at least specific parts of it. The film is a little too obvious with its foreshadowing and setup, which distracts from the rest of the film. The entire subplot with the "exposure of the magical world" and the involvement of the "Magical Congress of the United States of America" (or "MACUSA") is interesting, but ultimately unnecessary for the movie until the sequels come out. When the film focuses on the Fantastic Beasts and Newt Scamander themselves, it shines, only to be rusted by the political overtones and the unneeded dark magic involved. The characters are all fun and very distinct. They all have very unique looks and actions to them that makes them memorable and likable. The distinctions come to a disadvantage, however. The roles of each character is so obviously cliche that, if it weren't for the decent acting chops of all involved and the additional character tidbits added in, it would be rather painful. Newt is obviously the hero, Kowalski is obviously the comic relief, Tina is obviously the heroic girl and so on. The effects are a little questionable. It's easy to make out a lot of the CGI, and the filmmakers would have done well to use more practical effects. Especially for creatures that were on screen for a long time. For a movie that's based around them, that's a pretty big flaw. The movie is good, but it could have been much better. If they cut out the subplots and add in more practical effects, we could have had the Magical World equivalent of Jurassic Park. Instead we get an enjoyable movie that is bogged down by stories that are obviously meant to set up future sequels. 8/10