Fantastic Beasts is a renewal of a magical story
by rick olivares
Watching “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is like a homecoming. The familiar wonder is there but in brief scenes such as the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), the apartment of the Goldstein sisters, and in that place where main character of Newt Scamander stores his magical creatures.
For the most part, this is a dark film akin to the last few books and films of the Harry Potter saga.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is like a prequel as it is set in 1920s America and in a more urban setting. I love it as it gives the film a totally different feel, a period-piece if you will, and it is good so the story stands on its own legs instead of being simply another spin-off.
The story revolves around Scamander’s brief but highly eventful stopover in New York before heading for Arizona. Some of the magical creatures in his briefcase escape such as the mischievous and playful (and cute to a certain extent) Niffler, and Newt has to capture them before they cause more problems. Around the time of Newt’s arrival, New York is beset by undetermined troubles that are suspected to be the work of dark wizard Gellert Grindlewald.
Mary Lou Barebone, a No-Maj (as a Muggle is called Stateside), claims that the problems are caused by witches and wizards. There is the threat of discovery and war between the No-majes and the wizarding community. Newt witnesses one such rally led by Barebone and at the same time catches the eye of a disgraced former Auror Tina Goldstein who eventually hauls him over to MACUSA as an unregistered wizard in hopes of regaining her former position.
When Newt’s suitcase is accidentally switched with that of No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, he seeks its return and also enlists the latter’s help in recovering the creatures. Their paths intertwine with the Goldstein sisters (including the lovely chanteuse Alison Sudol who plays the vivacious Queenie) and in the process, discover the dark secret of Mary Lou’s son, Credence, and also MANCUSA magistrate, Percival Graves.
In “Fantastic Beasts”, there is no compunction in the use of magic in front of the ordinary folk. As of 2014, the Big Apple has been destroyed 66 times in film whether via King Kong, a tsunami, nuclear weapons, alien invasion, Godzilla, the zombie apocalypse, or by climate change among many others. This film is now an official entry and it is unique because it is the first to make use of magic and well, fantastic beasts.
David Yates returns to direct his fifth film in the Potter franchise and I have to say that “Fantastic Beasts” fits in nicely with the established filmography. Although, I have to say that there’s a matter of the story bogging down a bit at some parts but it doesn’t detract too much.
Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables, Jupiter Ascending) is a brilliant as the diffident Scamander. In the Potter-verse, Scamander is a David Attenborough-like character who was expelled from Hogwarts due to an uncited incident. He also wrote that book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, a textbook found in the first Harry Potter book and film.
And for such an undertaking, it requires a bookish, nerdish quality and Redmayne pulls it off fabulously. He doesn’t directly look at people and prefers to look down or at their shoes. He’s like when we’re first introduced to Harry Potter, a nice and thoroughly-likeable fellow even if he is odd.
Am not sure what to feel about Katherine Waterston’s Tina Goldstein and that perhaps is why at certain intervals in the film, I felt it drag. The one time I liked a scene of hers is when she returns to her apartment where we see magic at work in the kitchen and we’re introduced to her sister Queenie who reminds me just a little bit of Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney (in Dick Tracy) who lights up the film with her aura and good nature.
Queenie is attracted to Kowalski, played by native New Yorker Dan Folger who like Sudol, is a recording artist but is also a stand-up comedian having played hilarious roles in Take Me Home Tonight and Kung Fu Panda. Folger’s Kowalski is like Michael Peña’s Luis in Ant-Man, an everyday man who is the filmgoer’s point of view in the film and provides startling yet powerful comedy relief. Plus, I love the ending with Queenie.
Ezra Miller plays the troubled and tortured Credence and the transformation from what I know of him from The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the Flash in Dawn of Justice is pretty good.
I know there is a lot going on in the film but it would have still been nice to see Colin Farrell’s Graves be given a little more exposition. Only by film’s end do we understand his true motivations. A little more exposition would make me feel or understand Graves. It wasn’t there.
And Ron Perlman as the Italian-accented goblin gangster Gnarlack is so cool. This character needs more screen time. The jazzy atmosphere in The Blind Pig, Gnarlack’s pub) gave me that Cantina feel. Hopefully, there’s more in the sequel (in what is said to be a five-film series).
Aside from the actors, there’s a Jim Henson-like feel discovering all these fantastic beasts (I love the bowtruckle) that are a wonder.
And that is what this film is – a wonder. I love how the setting is out of England. I love the characters (even the ones who needed more exposition) and the beasts and the fact that we get to hear of other wizarding houses (Ilvermorny that the Goldstein sisters attended).
There’s so much to mine in the Potter-verse. And “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a good start.