Monday, November 21, 2016

[Review] Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

One of my many favorite aspects about the Harry Potter film series was the quirky and mystical creatures that inhabited the wizarding world, you know--the things that good ol' Hagrid liked to hang out with in the forest. So when I heard J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was making its way to the big screen, I figured there'd be room for some cool potential. Of course it's unfair to expect this spinoff prequel to capture the same magic, heart, and overall fandom of Harry, Ron, and Hermione's now iconic journey. However, it's still a decent piece of fantasy fare.

Meet Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a shy and timid magizoologist--his fluff of bangs practically a shield against eye contact. He travels to an impressively rendered 1920s New York City for some secret business, with nothing but a small suitcase at hand. After a run-in with a local muggle (or "No-Maj") named Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a few magical beasts escape from the suitcase, and the mismatched pair must track them down before the city goes into a frenzy. Meanwhile, an investigator (Katherine Waterston) plans to turn Scamander over to MACUSA, a security organization headed by a wizard with a shady agenda who goes by Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).

Even with its colder tone, the film makes sure to keep some playful humor intact. Kowalski is a primary source of laughs, basically functioning as an amusing ball of slapstick who gets swept up into the mischief. Then there's the Niffler--a little platypus-like critter with a taste for the finer things in life (it darts toward every gold coin and piece of jewelry it can find). But what's disappointing is that we don't actually learn a whole lot about these beasts, or where they come from, or where to find them. Maybe that'll be covered in the FOUR upcoming sequels. The closest we get to that feeling is when we step inside Scamander's suitcase, yes--step inside. In classic Rowling fashion, the suitcase contains its own expansive world, like a whimsical wildlife refuge with countless rare creatures basking about. It's definitely the most wondrous and visually astounding moment in the film.

What weighs Fantastic Beasts down is its less-than-interesting subplots that move on a much slower plane than the central story. The threads eventually converge in a chaotic cluster of action in the big city, not entirely unlike this year's Ghostbusters or the recent Doctor Strange. Fortunately, the cute twists that the resolution provides at least make up for some of the climax's lack of uniqueness. I've also seen some complaints about Eddie Redmanye's lead performance, but I found him to be fittingly cast. I think the only surprising thing is that he isn't a Weasley. But seriously, the real problem is that--aside from his immense compassion to preserve misunderstood beasts--the character itself just isn't developed very deeply here. Again, probably more of that in the FOUR upcoming sequels.

Despite its flaws, Fantastic Beasts is still a fairly fascinating place to slip into for a couple of hours. Let's just hope there's more to discover next time.


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