Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (2016) Review: Newt Scamander: Beast Detective
5 years since the last iteration of the Harry Potter franchise, and audiences just couldn’t seem to escape the Wizarding World. ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is the latest multi million dollar nostalgia trip in the same vein as ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Phantom Menace’. Those films though, came at least a decade after the original franchises. It doesn’t seem that long since I left the halls of Hogwarts, but nevertheless, I was happy to be go back, but I’m not exactly happy I went.
‘Fantastic Beasts’ is actually an entirely new story, at least to everyone except author JK Rowling, who takes her first crack at screenwriting with this film. Book fans and movie fans alike can walk hand in hand through the cinema doors, and finally enjoy the film in harmony. Just in time for Christmas. This time, the film follows Newt Scamander. He specializes in the study of the titular fantastic beasts. You follow him as he attempts to recollect his very dangerous, very magical creatures, that have managed to get out of his mystical suitcase, and are wreaking havoc on a 1920s New York City. Newt Ventura: Pet Magician
Each of the creatures Newt chases down are thrilling, creative, and gave me the same sense of wonder that was such an important element of the earliest Harry Potter films. It also had much of the quirk of those films. Suddenly, as Eddie Redmayne performed a mating dance to lure a bio-luminescent rhino looking beast away from a hippo that was about to get not so lucky, I felt I understood this film immensely. Okay the Ace Ventura parallel is a little too real now.
Newt Scamander has a greater love for animals than people, perhaps because they haven’t exactly shown him the kindness that animals do. Redmayne was not nearly as annoying as I expected him to be. He was far more somber, with surprising bits of heart, especially when his beloved creatures were threatened. A standout in the cast is Dan Fogler, a human who gets swept up in the world of magic, who’s performance is so endearing, that I wouldn’t have minded seeing this film entirely from his point of view.
Aside from the beasts and their whereabouts, the movie gives its version of a troubled 1920s New York. There’s a growing sentiment that perhaps the people of Salem were onto something, and that witches do in fact live among the muggle kind, or “No mag” kind as they’re called in the United States. Naturally, Newt and his beasts only elevate that troubling sentiment, causing the powers that be a fair degree of nervousness. Much like the X-Men universe, a world of people with amazing physics denying abilities, live in fear of stigmatization.
Such is the beauty of Fantastic Beasts. It lets you have your cake with a mesmerizing look at just how many monsters Newt has in his Poke-case, as they live peacefully in their respective habitats, each more magical than the last. It also gives you a side of food for thought, in its post war, prohibition era environment. That environment gives way for multiple allegories. Key in this film is Ezra Miller’s Creedence, a young wizard who suffers from withholding his magical abilities, unable to channel his true identity. Wheras the Harry Potter films had such great emphasis on a grand story of good vs. evil, keeping away the dark wizard boogey man, ‘Fantastic Beasts’ is a film that for a large part of it, is simply a thrilling and well thought out expansion of the world we’ve already been to.
And it was all going so well.
Unfortunately nothing gold can stay, since this foray into wonder and delight is unfortunately marred by the same thing that plagues everyone of these prequel franchises from middle earth, to a galaxy far far away: sequel baiting, and unnecessary connections to the original property. The movie presents a side plot in which Colin Firth’s character wonders why he must hide his powers from humans, since clearly humans are the one’s being protected.
That boring, been done, subpar magneto, eye roll inducing story is so uninteresting to me, especially when it shares the screen with creatures I can’t begin to comprehend how they work. Truthfully, it’s a damn shame. As much as I might love the best parts about this film, I’m almost certain that the four films that are to follow this one, will focus on the parts I liked the least. It’s not simply because it’s been seen before, (like in X-Men first class, a prequel that also took place in a less than open minded time in America’s history), but it’s included entirely for the purpose of seeding a story that will only later come to fruition. Even in this very film the ending to the plot that’s been so shrouded in mystery lands like a wet towel. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, only to realize the movie had tied its laces and walked out the door saying “see you next time” with a shit eating grin.
I suppose this is the movie the half price rating was invented for, since only half of it is worth seeing. One half of the movie, the one that’s been promised by the title, is captivating, interesting, and provides the absolute best 3D visuals I’ve seen in a live action movie to date. I haven’t had the genuine sensation of reaching out to touch what was coming out of the screen, in about a decade. The other half is bland, overly mysterious, and undercuts the film it’s a part of, by serving a line of unshot sequels no one really asked for.
Rating: Half Price.