Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Release date: November 18, 2016 (USA)
Directed by: David Yates
Screenplay by: J. K. Rowling
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz.
Harry Potter fans know who Newt Scamander is, famous magizoologist, personal friend of Albus Dumbledore and noted author of one of the textbooks at Hogwarts. Yes, said book is named Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This is an adventure from back in the 20s, when the book was still a manuscript, and then not-so-famous Newt goes to New York to collect a particular magical creature. But dude doesn’t come alone. Nope. He brings with him a suitcase full of the titular fantastic beasts, and some manage to escape. At the same time, the heavily segregated Wizarding community in New York is having some trouble with sinister situations, both magical and non-magical in nature, that could disrupt the secrecy of their world from no-majs (that’s how Americans call muggles. Terrible, I know!)
First of all, let me tell you that there’s good acting all around. Starting with the leads down to the no-majs. Redmayne presented a great Scamander; vulnerable, slightly weird but accessible. He reminded me a bit of Matt Smith as The Doctor (from Doctor Who), but that must be because of his quirkiness and his item bigger on the inside. He also seemed to have ASD. He’s obviously more comfortable interacting with (magical) animals than with people.
Floger as Jacob Kowalski the no-maj is the audience character. Perfect for exposition purposes, he also added a lot of humor and heart, and was surprisingly never annoying. He even managed to give us an emotional moment.
Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol as the Goldstein sisters are both interesting in their contrasts. Tina (Waterson) was a plucky career woman who was demoted from her Auror work for something she did before this adventure started. Queenie (Sudol) is a natural Legilimens, and she’s all light and colors, while her sister is more grey and muted. Both clearly love each other and have a great bond.
Morton as Mary Lou Barebone is downright creepy as only a narrow-minded extremist can be. She’s the leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society (the NSPS, or “The Second-Salemers”), whose goals include exposing and killing wizards and witches. Her interactions with her children and other people around her highlight her clearly abusive tendencies, even if it’s never explicitly shown. Many of the dark tones from the movie come from her, specially because it’s so realistic and mundane.
A couple of characters I didn’t expect to love so much were Miller’s Credence Barebone and Farrell’s Percival Graves. Mostly because how well they were acted and how good their plot was. The other dark tones come from their relationship, because even before you learn the truth about them, there’s something predatory between their relationship. While their endings are uncertain, I really hope we get to watch them again in the sequels.
As for the script, it’s not bad at all for J.K. Rowling’s first try. She proves once again she’s very good at dealing both with fun moments and dark ones. David Yates is seamlessly back to the wizarding world; and both he and Rowling had lots of world-building to work with that was not limited to special effects. That said, the beast themselves were indeed fantastic in all their variety and design. Even if there were some moments where the CGI was not as perfect as it could be.
The film also works for people who haven’t seen the Harry Potter films before, and fans can delight in all the nods and easter eggs. It’s also an adult story, with adult situations, even if they were presented in an innocent way, which is perfect for those who grew up with the books and films. The fact that it’s another time and place from the original saga, gives it a whole new different tone, even if it still feels like the wizarding world we know. Also, the adults wizards use their magic with such ease and competence, and the US Department of Magical Law Enforcement can be downright harsh.
The music was obviously inspired by the previous Harry Potter scores by John Williams, and incorporated some of their themes like the iconic Hedwig’s Theme. One shining moment of the soundtrack by James Newton Howard was the scene where Queenie makes a strudel by magic. However, there were two things that bring it down. First, the fact that they had two very different plots that were only thinly related in the sense that both happen at the same time. Both are great storylines, and could stand on their own, but they don’t work that well together. Also, that third act? Totally a superhero movie, which is not something I am used from either the books or movies.
Then there’s Johnny Depp. He was there for a couple of minutes, and still managed to single-handedly lower the quality of the film. He was just Johnny Depp in a new costume. The fact that he appeared in a “Scooby-Doo moment” didn’t help matters. Considering his role is bound to expand exponentially in the future movies, that’s worrying.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an entertaining movie that at the same time opens the door for the sequels, but can still stand on its own. It also can be watched more than once, if you are interested in all the little details that you missed the first viewing. That said, I really hope those two minutes with Johnny Depp are a fluke, and he’s ready to give us a great interpretation in the sequels, or we are going to have big problems.