Review: Of Couse, "Fantastic Beasts" is Fantastic
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) - A Trash in My Eye Review

Running time:  133 minutes

MPAA – PG-13 for some fantasy action violence

DIRECTOR:  David Yates

WRITER:  J.K. Rowling

PRODUCERS:  David Heyman, Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling, and Lionel Wigram

CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Philippe Rousselot (D.o.P.)

EDITOR:  Mark Day

COMPOSER:  James Newton Howard

FANTASY/DRAMA/FAMILY

Starring:  Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Samantha Morton, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Jenn Murray, Carmen Ejogo, Jon Voight, Josh Cowdery, Ronan Rafferty, Ron Perlman, Zoe Kravitz, and Johnny Depp

I don't think the title really describes this movie's plot or the world in which it is set.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a 2016 fantasy film directed by David Yates.  This film is a continuation of the Harry Potter film series, and it is co-produced and written by J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (or simply Fantastic Beasts) is inspired by Rowling's 2001 book of the same name.  Set in J. K. Rowling's Wizarding World 70 years before Harry Potter's story, Fantastic Beasts follows the adventures of a British wizard after he arrives in New York City and clashes with its secret community of witches and wizards.

In 1926, British wizard and "magizoologist" Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) stops in New York City on his way to Arizona.  Scamander also carries with him a magical suitcase full of fantastic beasts, and one of them, a “Niffler,” escapes into the city.  During his quest to recapture the Niffler, Scamander meets a “No-Maj” (does not have magical powers) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), after they unwittingly swap suitcases.

This confusion brings Scamander into contact and conflict with Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a demoted auror (hunter of dark wizards), who belongs to the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA).  Scamander also meets Tina's sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), a flapper who has amazing powers of memory.  Now, the four of them are caught in a conspiracy involving one or more escaped beasts, with one of them being very dangerous.  Scamander has been searching for this creature, and to find it and protect it may cost him his life.

I did not expect much from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  It is not that I thought that it was a bad movie, but I guess I was comparing it unfavorably to the Harry Potter films – without having seen it...  However, I find that Fantastic Beasts compares quite favorably to the Potter films; in fact, Fantastic Beasts is a film set in the Wizarding World for us grown-ups.

Fantastic Beasts is an adult urban fantasy which presents a perilous world of magic where secrets must be kept, even unto penalty of death.  War between the world of wizards and witches and the world of the No-Maj slash humans without magical powers seems like a genuine threat in this narrative.  [In the Potter films, humans without magical powers are referred to as “muggles.”]

There is something on the line for the character; they have something to lose, and perhaps, some could lose everything, including their lives.  So the audience buys into this story.  Fantastic Beasts is not some mere, spin-off, sequel/prequel, event movie.  It is all in the writing of of J.K. Rowling's script; she makes the story matters, and once again, director David Yates understands the most important elements of Rowling's writing.  The bonds of family and friendship; the motivations of characters; the conflict central and peripheral; and good versus evil, and Yates and Rowling deliver strongly on these.

Fantastic Beasts also separates itself from the Potter films with a cast of characters that is far more eccentric than the characters Potter delivered (and there were oddballs in that lot).  Oscar-winning actor Eddie Redmayne manages to make a introverted, strange little man into a strong lead and resilient lead character that the audience will follow, even when Redmayne makes it obvious that Scamander does not want anyone following him.

Katherine Waterston makes Tina worthy of her own film.  In her feature film debut, Alison Sudol is pitch perfect as Queenie, and Dan Fogler surprises as Jacob.  In fact, all of the cast is good – from Colin Farrell's perplexing Percival Graves to Ezra Miller's troubled Credence Barebone.  Fantastic Beasts delivers complex and engaging characters.

Yes, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them delivers and proves that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a universe that can exist beyond Harry.  Fantastic Beasts is a thoroughly enjoyable movie; it is so likable that I cannot really find fault with it.  I don't know if every Potter fan will like this movie, but for some of us, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is our part of the Wizarding World.

9 of 10

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux a.k.a. "I Reads You"


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