“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Movie Review

Now with the start of this new spin-off series, are we still supposed to call it the Harry Potter universe or The Wizarding World? I’d like someone to clarify that for me. This British-American fantasy movie was released on November 18th, 2016,  pulling in box office receipts of $218 million in its opening weekend alone. For those of you who know me and those who don’t, I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter franchise, both the books and movies. Watching this movie, it’s really hard not to compare this new film to them, but I will strive to review with objective eyes. Instead of being based on any written book or text from author J.K. Rowling, this film opts for an original story from a screenplay written by Rowling herself. Taking things in the past way back to the mid-1920’s, we follow a British magi-zoologist named Newt Scamander who comes to New York City for research on certain magical beasts. But through situational circumstances, No-Maj (Americanised term for Muggle, non-magic folk) Jacob Kowalski takes them home to his apartment, where they are accidentally let loose into the streets. Now Newt and Jacob have to recapture all of these creatures while the M.A.C.U.S.A., or the Magical Congress of the United States of America, attempt to keep the No-Maj world separated from theirs. Namely, the Second Salemers, a group of narrow-minded extremists led by Mary-Lou Barebone whose primary goal is hunting down and killing witches and wizards. There’s a lot more going on in the background and a couple other subplots, but that is the gist of it. And for what it’s worth, the movie was really enjoyable. Eddie Redmayne has proven himself to be one of the better actors of his generation with The Theory of Everything and Les Miserables. His performance here gives Newt a likability and compassion that you would expect from this kind of role, as you can tell he really cares for these beasts. I also really liked Jacob. Dan Fogler has great comedic timing and his relationship with Newt Scamander is the type that reminds of Harry and Ron’s friendship. The visual effects look incredible as well. There is a considerable amount of CGI, but all of it looks clean and smooth. The creatures look incredible, and the spells are… magical. I know it was too easy, but I couldn’t help myself.Fantastic Beasts also spends some good time exploring the politics of magic in North America. We saw in the old movies that J.K. Rowling’s penchant for including social issues of prejudice and  authoritarianism. She continues with those themes in this film, but they feel like a much more timely and relevant manner in which they’re presented, especially with what’s going on in America right now. You get the idea that the M.A.C.U.S.A. is super-controlling over the boundaries between the No-Maj and the Wizarding community, something that the Second Salemers attempt to turn against. But it, unfortunately, hampers the overall pacing of the story, given the relatively short runtime of 133 minutes. Some scenes dragged on a little bit, others felt too short. And it often walks the line between touching and sappy. Other than that, it manages to stay aware of what is. And among all that, Collin Farrell was great in the movie as Percival Graves, an Auror tasked with tracking down Newt. Farrell hasn’t been in many movies as of late, but when he is, he’s always great. There also some hints that Graves has his own agenda to carry out in the shadows. No spoilers or anything, but you can tell that he’s a shady Wizard that probably shouldn’t be trusted. And ultimately, the main goal of this movie is to set up a new franchise. I believe that director David Yates mentioned that they’ve planned a five-movie series. And Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them accomplishes that goal pretty well, with the main conflict and the future films firmly established by the end. It did feel a bit forced to include the uprising of Gellert Grindewald in a story like Newt Scamander’s, but I’m interested to see what Johnny Depp does with the character. In the end, Fantastic Beasts and to Find Them is solid franchise starter that manages to honor the legacy of the previous Harry Potter Films. The acting was great, the direction was crisp, it was visually appealing. I love the soundtrack too. I went onto YouTube that night to listen to it and felt like I was in the Wizarding World once more. It’s perhaps composer James Newton Howard’s most imaginative film score yet, rivaling that of his work on the Huner Games series. It’s a great adventure for the whole family to see during Thanksgiving Break. (At least until Moana comes out)

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