Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, scripted by J. K. Rowling and directed by David Yates, is like a door between adolescence and adulthood for Harry Potter fans.
It takes the world-building from a narrower school backdrop to a much vast Wizarding World, complete with adult characters living in an adult world with adult problems. Yet, a part of the plot is still under the patronage of children, albeit in the much darker area of severe child abuse.
Katherine Waterson is charming in her role of recently fired Auror Tina Goldstein, who finds herself between a rock and a hard place, trying to save the day while facing alienation from the very institution with which she has thrown her lot.
Tina’s Legilimens sister Queenie is another example of a creatively well-written character, brought to life by Alison Studol.
Eddie Redmayne in the role of our protagonist magizoologist Newt Scamader nailed the point between awkward and heroic with his mind-blowing acting. But it was possibly Dan Fogler, as the goofy underdog No-Maj Jacob Kowalski who stole the show.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has the same – if not better – scope for unique possibilities and strange twists to reality as the original Harry Potter franchise, and it looks like it plans to fully tap that potential.
The film is true to its time (1926) and place (New York) setting, with a backdrop of gleaming skyscrapers, and the best in flapper fashion.
There is goofiness and melancholy in equal parts, with a side of violent undertones. One moment we see a comedic sequence of a couple of adults chasing a mischievous fluffy little creature around New York City, and the next moment we bear witness to a whole new, innovative, twisted method of execution being practiced at the magical parliament.
And while all the characters have their fair share of lighthearted comic screen time, they have, too, a forlorn backstory that they constantly drag around with them.
If you allow me to nitpick, I’d say it was probably a lot to take in. There were too many important things that were going on to keep track of; David Yates didn’t give us enough breathing space between one fantastic occurrence and the next.
Also, it’s about a lot more than just finding fantastic beasts. In fact, it seems like that’s just a plot device being used to set up a much bigger and more complex build up for an oncoming war. So, don’t be fooled by the title.
The mega-plot that’s brewing in the background might be slightly confusing for people who haven’t read the Harry Potter books.
Because although Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a movie that can be enjoyed by everyone, the story seems to assume that viewers have at least an inkling about the dark wizard Grindelwald, the wizarding war surrounding his rise to power, and his history with Albus Dumbledore.
Then again, perhaps they will elaborate on these topics at greater length in the remaining four movies. We can only wait and hope.
But, like I said, I’m just nitpicking.
It’s a wonderfully refreshing experience for fans of the Harry Potter series, what with all the little references to Hogwarts being thrown around.
We see neither hide nor hair of the American wizarding school Ilvermorny, but when it is mentioned towards the end as the best wizarding school in the world, we find ourselves in a similar position as Newt – full of pride for Hogwarts, and extremely indignant that any other school could claim to be better, because Hogwarts is, and perhaps always will be, our home.
I have to admit – I had serious trepidations about whether or not Fantastic Beasts will be able to live up to my expectations. But it managed to score at least an E – for Exceeds Expectations – on that O.W.L. Whether or not the series will pass its N.E.W.T.s remains to be seen.
In Muggle terms (or should I say No-Maj?), I give this film 3.5 out of 5 stars.
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