Like a good, responsible Potterhead, I was excited to see this movie. The Harry Potter Universe is something that I will always be more than glad to come back to. And While Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, indeed, occupies the same world as the Potter books, it is a movie that can stand on its own, no prior Harry Potter knowledge required. So two thumbs up for that. But like any Potterhead, I was hoping this would be as enchanting as the Potter films. The result however, leaves much to be desired.
Although to its credit Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them gives what it says it will. That is, there is no shortage of “fantastic beasts” running amok in 1920’s New York. There are Nifflers, Erumpents, Occamys, Thunderbirds, Demiguises, Billywigs and Bowtruckles. They shrink, they expand, they scurry, they bite, they swoosh, and whoosh, and get horny. CGI-wise, this movie is a visual feast. But too much razzle-dazzle is like having too much sugar. And we all know how a sugar-high works. It doesn’t last very long, and will leave a person feeling drained afterwards. So yeah, while the chase sequences were cool and nifty, and fun, and us the audience gets to play Pokémon Go, Potter style. But sometimes you just want a bit of a breather. So now here is where it gets tricky. This isn’t the only storyline. Mysterious attacks have been happening all over the city, purportedly done by a witch or wizard. A sort of “dark-wind” that goes about killing and destroying people and structures alike, with intent and purpose. This causes some tension between the no-maj (term for non-magical people in the US, aka Muggles in the UK) and the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United Stated of America, wished they came up with a better sounding acronym, but that’s that), bringing about the formation of New Salem Philanthropic Society (or the Second-Salemers), an extremist group dedicated to annihilating the existence of magical people. And I love this bit of the story, it’s Rowling’s commentary on the very relevant topic of tolerance and bigotry. This is something too, that was touched upon in the Potter books, with Hermione’s S.P.E.W. and the whole “mudblood” thing. And of course, I am fine with multiple storylines, but the back and forth between the fun creature chase sequences and dark bigotry stuff, can be a bit disorienting. It adds to the busy and cluttered feel of the plot. I just wanted everything to come together smoothly and clearly.
Now, I think the actors did the film a solid though. Eddie Redmayne, is endearing enough as Newt Scamander, the sort of equal parts Jack Hanna and Dr. Doolitle of the Wizarding Community, with his devotion to studying magical creatures, and advocating their proper care and treatment. Besides Redmayne has that “quirky” face, which kind of already fits someone who is named Newt Scamander. And he can do “awkward” pretty darned well. Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski is adorable as the no-maj, and makes for a great audience surrogate, always bewildered and beffudled, but always ready to be kind. Alison Sudol is also a scene stealer as Queenie Goldstein, the sweet and sultry Legilimens (mind-reader). Not much can be said about Katherine Waterston as Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (the disgraced auror), not by any fault of Waterston though. I wished her character was written with more omph. I mean, if I have a sister like Queenie, who looks like Marilyn Monroe, and happens to enthrall every single man within 5 feet of her, I’d be like “what am I chopped liver?”. I’d be snippy and sarcastic as hell. And while Tina Goldstein is indeed, plucky, I wanted her to be sarcastic-plucky. In that way, she would have made a great foil to the very shy Newt Scamander.
Overall, this movie is somewhere in between a Toe Biter Jinx and a Stinging Jinx. Quite far off from a Cruciatus curse, rest assured. And I heard this is going to be a five-parter. So there will be 4 more coming our way. I’d say that’s good news, this movie gets four more chances. So yeah, I’m still the schmuck who will be giving J.K. Rowling my money the second time. But guys, she deserves our money! Still, I am hoping that perhaps the second installment will feel nowhere near like a jinx, but more of a cheering charm. Yep, I love my spells.
Rating: 3/5 Stars