I would be doing the Harry Potter community a disservice if I spoiled anything for this film, so consider this more of a reaction than a review.
Also let's be honest, almost anything I say about the film is not going to deter general audiences from seeing this film. So the good news is, overall I enjoyed it!
More after the break.
"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" chronicles the adventures of Newt Scamander, magizoologist, who arrives in New York in 1926 with a suitcase full of fantastic beasts.
How do you write a film based on what is essentially a textbook? Well, you get the person who wrote said textbook and the entire Harry Potter universe to write their first screenplay. Let us be immensely grateful to J.K. Rowling, she wrote a series that had such a huge impact on a generation (several generations) and could easily have hung up her hat and walked away. Instead she's opened up an entire new world for us to discover.
What was also exciting is we had nothing to compare it to (sort of... comparing the beasts to their descriptions in the textbook/source material does not a plot make). When watching the Harry Potter films I was constantly comparing what was on screen to the books.
This film, directed by David Yates (the last 4 Harry Potter films) and with much of the original team returning, "Fantastic Beasts" could absolutely serve as a standalone film. You don't have to be super well immersed in the wizarding world of Harry Potter if you're willing to try to go along with it.
Die-hard Potter fans will appreciate many tips of the cap to our fervor. Yes I say our as I absolutely count myself as a Potterhead.
It was a fascinating premise to see a magical culture that took place decades prior to what we've seen so far, as well as in a different country, but ultimately it wasn't that different. I hope in the coming films they dive in to the differences between the different cultures and their schools of thought on dealing with the non-wizarding world (and from what I can tell that's what's in store).
Stylistically and visually the film takes the roaring 20s themes and runs with them. Kudos to all the design teams.
There are definitely themes in the film which given the state of the world now are going to hit harder home. They're themes that absolutely existed in the Harry Potter books/films. Good vs Evil, intolerance vs love, the pursuit of knowledge vs the pursuit of power. The film felt darker than previous ones (with the possible exception of Hallows pt 1 and 2), possibly in part because the protagonists are all adults.
Plot wise I found many elements predictable, but there were definitely some twists and turns I appreciated. I definitely gasped at a few moments.
In terms of the performances, I am a big Eddie Redmayne fan, but as my viewing compatriot described it, there's a level of fatigue setting in. He's played several shy geniuses in a row now (let's ignore "Jupiter Ascending"), and I'd love to see him expand out of that. I was not a huge fan of the character of Porpentia Goldstein (played by Katherine Watson) though she grew on me in the third act. If you've read the "Beasts" textbook you'll know her significance, or just... If you've seen any movie ever? Her sister, Queenie Goldstein (played by Alison Sudol) also initially bothered me a bit as well, she felt a little one dimensional, but she had a few scenes where she really shone.
My favorite character by far, was Jacob Kowalski (played by Dan Fogler). He's our first Muggle, excuse me, "No-Maj" (awful awful sounding phrase...) protagonist, and he brought a warmth and humor to the role that in other hands might have felt hokey. His bromance with Newt, combined with viewing the wizarding world through his eyes brought a great balance to some of the darker themes.
There are some other characters (all of whom have been announced) that I'll go into after the film is released wide.
A few qualms that I will discuss now, and this comes more from my background in CG. You can see some of this in the trailers and I've had this issue with several of the Potter films, sometimes the animation integration falls short, particularly when it comes to physical interaction. Many sequences are great, but there are a few times when people are interacting with the beasts that it's tough to look past the CG. I was re-watching "The Legend of Tarzan" while writing this and had similar qualms, as it was a David Yates directed film that relied on CG creatures that didn't integrate as well as I'd have hoped with the human characters.
No it was not a perfect film, but my biggest skepticism coming in was "how are they going to make this in to one movie, let alone many" and ultimately the film left me excited to see what they do.
The latest interviews, reviews, and opinions on film by Dana Han-Klein. Thoughts and opinions are entirely my own and not reflective of my employer or any third parties.
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