Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York's secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school. (IMDB)
2 hours 13 minutes
November 18, 2016
Director: David Yates
Writer: J.K. Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller
Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi
Movie spin-offs/expanded universe stories are generally hit and miss. We have the hits (Rogue One, The Wolverine) and the misses (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Scorpion King). Now excuse me while I go throw up from mentioning X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Whew. Now with that out of the way, I am happy to say that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a good spin-off. Not great, but not bad, it is simply good. The 2 hour and 13 minute run time seemed to fly by, and I did not check my watch once while watching it. Upon further review, it does have its faults, but writer J.K. Rowling and director David Yates were able to cobble together a mostly worthy spin-off/prequel to the much beloved Harry Potter franchise.
Violence: We see several people at the beginning of the movie die from some sort of magical blast. The Obscurus causes large amounts of destruction in NYC. It also kills several people; we see several of them violently twisted and thrown around. Credence is beaten by his mother and we see different wounds on his hands, face, etc. Aurors shoot a wizard and we see said wizard disintegrate.
Language: One use of the word Hell and some British slang.
Spiritual Content: Magic plays a large role in the movie, whether light or dark magic. The main villain is called an Obscurus which develops inside certain young witches and wizards as a dark and dangerous power.
Sexual Content: We see a female wizard in a nightgown and some scantily clad women in a club. A couple kisses near end of movie.
Drug/Alcohol Use: At a scene in a bar, we see several characters drinking alcohol and smoking what appears to be cigars.
Other Negative Content: Credence is abused by his mother and very fearful of her.
Positive Content: Newt’s altruistic goals are very admirable. He has a passion for protecting creatures that cannot protect themselves. As with the original Harry Potter series, the theme of good vs. evil is very present where good prevails. Although wizards and No-Majs are not allowed to interact with each other, Newt becomes very close friends with Jacob and we see their strong bond throughout the movie.
Fantastic Beasts picks up in the middle of Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) altruistic journey to find and protect the many magical creatures of the world. Our story begins with Mr. Scamander arriving in New York. We find out that he is in route to a magical place called Arizona to release the magical creature known as a Thunderbird. Unfortunately for Newt, he has arrived at a tumultuous time. Tensions run high as the MCUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America aka American Ministry of Magic) tries to keep the magical realm hidden from the No-Maj, (a super creative term for non-magic folk. Way to be creative America) all while a dark and unknown force is terrorizing the city.
Meanwhile Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), the Director of Magical Security for MCUSA, is up to no good. He takes an interest in Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), the son of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) who is the leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society; an organization bent on exposing on killing witches and wizards. Through a mix up of brief cases and future misunderstandings, Newt, the No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and former employee of MCUSA, Tina Goldstein, (Katherine Waterston) all band together to fight this dark force, expose the true intentions of the impish Graves and save New York City!
Now, I want to take a moment to discuss my biggest issue with the plot. I can forgive the fact that Newt’s purpose in even coming to America is to go to Arizona (no one travels to America, especially in pre-flight 1920s, just to go to Arizona). I can forgive the fact that this movie has two very different story lines going on simultaneously. What I find unable to forgive though, is the “bumbling buffoon saves the day” story arch for Newt.
In movies with a singular hero, there are two ways in which said hero saves the day: 1.) He/She is the chosen one who was destined to come from some unknown land and rescue everyone (The Matrix, Star Wars) or 2.) He/She happens to be in the right place at the right time (Big Trouble in Little China, the Evil Dead series). The movie shows us that Newt, while a talented and gifted wizard, is also a bit of a twit. His naivety and childlike sense of wonderment make it hard to think he would normally be the savior in any other circumstance. While Newt will receive most of the credit, it was really the beasts that saved the day. So indirectly, way to go Newt.
The line “With all your faults, I love you still” from the song “It Had to Be You” sums up my feelings about this movie. This movie did so many things well and was made by people who really care about the story and characters. They did a great job with Newt; he’s likeable and just the right amount of goofy that is not annoying. He’s easy to relate to and care about. Jacob, however, is annoying. He appears to be doing an impersonation of someone else doing an exaggerated impersonation of how a New Yorker is supposed to talk and act. It’s the inception of impersonations. Unlike Inception though, this is bad.
Ezra Miller also gets a shout out for his performance as Credence; the abused son of Mary Lou. His portrayal of someone stuck in an abusive relationship is heartbreaking and, unfortunately to many people, relatable. With the little screen time he is given, he builds a character with history. We know where he came from and where he has been. We see and empathize with every emotional beat he experiences, of which he has many. It’s a hauntingly good performance.
The real star of the movie is the 1920’s New York setting. The filmmakers did an incredible job of recreating (what I believe to be) a realistic representation of that time. The costumes, locales, hair styles, and atmosphere all pay homage to a time when America felt something that many Americans now dearly need: hope. It was nice to see an America on my TV that isn’t divided or torn apart, but instead united and excited for what they future holds.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the other stars of the film: the beasts. While not all fantastic, as a whole, they hold their own. I’ll give a shout out to the adorable platypus-like creature Niffler. Not only does he resemble God’s favorite punchline (the aforementioned platypus), but he loves shiny things. It actually makes thievery adorable. The Erumpent, however, is not adorable. A cross between a rhinoceros and an elephant, this guy loves to unknowingly cause havoc in New York City. On the top of his head he has large sacs filled with a deadly fluid that will leak from his horn when it pierces anything. In my opinion, these sacs look like cysts. I’m no doctor, but cysts are usually a bad sign. If I were this particular Erumpent, I would go see a doctor. But that’s just me. Now to my personal favorite: the Bowtruckle. These little guys look like the leaves that would grow on Groot and are just as charming. Of all the relationships in the film, I most enjoyed the connection between Newt and Pickett, his personal Bowtruckle fan club.
Is this the Harry Potter sequel/prequel/spin-off that we all wanted? Meh. Is it a more than adequate attempt at all these things? Yes. Many popular film series choose to make prequels to explain all the unanswered questions we had in the first place (Star Wars, Alien). It’s clear from the ending that we will soon be diving into the rich history of one Albus Dumbledore. Although, I hold to the view that many of the best questions are those left unanswered, I am curious to find out more about this beloved character. Knowing that, whether we like it or not, we are getting more films about his character, I am glad that they started on the right foot.
+ Very likable protagonist
+ Excellent visuals and use of magic
+ Fun and interesting beasts
- Sometimes convoluted story
- Some poor character choices and development