Throw on some jazz, pour a glass of Giggle Water, and curl up with your favorite bowtruckle, we’re talking Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, on this spoiler-free review.
Newt Scamander, the Wizarding World’s one-man, magical creature rescue, is visiting New York City. Unfortunately, Newt should have invested in better luggage, because some of his magical creatures escape and begin causing mischief. When an unexplained, gruesome death occurs, Newt’s creatures are blamed, but there is really a greater evil lurking around the City that Never Sleeps.
As the kids who started out with Harry Potter grow into adults, the Wizarding World must grow with them. That’s the impression I got from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It definitely has a more adult vibe.
Though there are a few kids in the film – creepy, creepy kids – the main trio of this tale is a group of adults.
Newt is an awkward, introverted wizard who is infinitely more at ease interacting with animals than humans. I haven’t related so closely to a Harry Potter character since first reading about Luna Lovegood. Newt is charming, compassionate, and courageous. His constant sweetness, love towards animals, and innocent disappointment in people, made me want to give him a hug throughout the entire film.
Tina, a disgraced Auror, is doing whatever needs to be done to work her way back into the Magical Congress’ good graces. When she gets mixed up with Newt, she finds that there are more important things than career.
Jacob Kowalski is a muggle (in the United States they are called nomages, but that just isn’t as fun to say as muggle). I love that they throw a muggle into the mix this time. He gets to be part of the gang, he gets to help out, and he gets to show that muggles aren’t completely useless. Jabob is not the most complex character, but he is instantly likable and induces some major feels by the end.
You could argue that the villain in the film isn’t a person, but hate. It’s the hatred, fear, and prejudices the non-magical have towards the magical that then sparks hatred in reverse, causing the magical to fear repercussions from and hate the non-magical. Then there is the most heinous hatred of all, the hatred of oneself, which is what inevitably sets the world into chaos. It’s pretty weighty stuff, that is perhaps a little under-explored, and although I would have preferred less niffler antics, I think the beasty shenanigans scenes were needed to add some lightness and comedy to what was definitely a serious, dark main plot.
The Big Apple
There is something utterly romantic about New York during the roaring 1920s, and in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the magic elevates that romance.
The Magical Congress, the United States’ version of the Ministry of Magic, is architectural magnificence.
Though the entrance isn’t as cool as the Ministry’s, the Congress interior is an art deco dream. I wish we could have spent more time exploring the space. Hopefully it will be revisited in the future films.
I found the execution room intriguing, and wondered if the death pool was the Magical Congress’ equivalent of the veil at the Ministry of Magic. The original series never did explain what the veil was.
In films and on television speakeasies always look insanely fun. The drinks, the dancing, and the dresses – some of the reasons the 1920s is one of my favorite time periods – exist because the previous societal stuffiness no longer exists, but the elegant, classiness remains. The magical speakeasy is exactly what you want it to be. I wanted to jump through the screen and sip Giggle Water all night with Newt and the gang.
More Great Stuff
When the film project was first announced, Matt Smith, of Doctor Who fame, was up for the role of Newt Scamander. I went into the film still a little disappointed that I wasn’t seeing Matt on the big screen, but after seeing Eddie Redmayne’s performance, I don’t think I could imagine Newt as anyone else. Eddie brought a deep sincerity and quiet fierceness to the character that was all his own. The casting overall was perfect, with all of the performances on point. I thought actress Alison Sudol, who plays Queenie, put in a particularly excellent, touching, performance.
The CGI and overall effects are well executed. There is enough to dazzle and impress, without being gratuitous. You know that the CGI has done its job when you are ready to punch Newt in the face for betraying what is essentially a sentient stick.
As with the previous Wizarding films, it is the characters, not the effects, that take center stage and shine.
I think a flaw of sequels is that sometimes the filmmaker simply rehashes all of the content from the previous film(s). With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them it appears that the creators did their best to keep things fresh. Of course when you establish a world some things can’t help but be repeated, but they made sure they didn’t overdo it. There are a lot of new, and creative sights and concepts. With the country and era being different, the magic in this film has a distinct feel. It’s gritty, no-nonsense, get down to business magic. There is less drama and flourish to the spell casting. The different energy lends to it not feeling repetitive.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a worthy kick off to what will hopefully be another amazing series of films. Though I personally would have preferred to get a little more into the meat of the fascinating main plot with less of the beast chasing hijinks, I have a feeling that this film is meant to be the well-prepared appetizer before the more intense main dish. It both tied everything up into a tidy little package at the end, and set things up for the epicness to come.