Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
2016. Directed by David Yates.
David Yates returns to the Harry Potter universe with a delightful prequel that focuses on the adult wizarding world of America. Featuring gorgeous visuals, unforgettable costuming, and a terrific ensemble performance, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them provides an enchanting atmosphere, populated with mythical creatures, devious villains, and some surprisingly dark subject matter that abandons it’s intriguing set up in favor of a cataclysmic superhero finale.
Newt Scamander is a protector of magical beasts who arrives in New York City with a mysterious agenda. Some of his collection escapes from his bewitched suit case and begin to wreak havoc on the city, increasing tensions among the magical community who are desperate to remain unknown to ordinary humans. A wizard detective named Graves is investigating a series of supernatural disturbances that he believes are being perpetrated by one of the escaped creatures. Newt, along with a human bystander named Jacob set about recapturing the animals before they’re harmed by the paranoia of the American wizards. Their quest takes them through the heart of an esoteric metropolis where they’re joined by new comrades and challenged by unspeakable darkness.
Eddie Redmayne does an outstanding job as Newt, portraying him as the consummate outsider. It’s a refreshing take on the awkward loner, with Redmayne communicating pain and wonder in equal amounts, without ever turning nasty. He’s a mischievous and misunderstood explorer whose pursuits have left him isolated, but not cold. Katherine Waterston does an admirable job as one of his sidekicks, but many of her scenes are so rushed that its difficult to identify with her until the film gets through it’s clunky first act. However, once it does, this film shines, with Phillipe Rousselot’s spellbinding cinematography coming alive. There are some outstanding compositions, especially during the sequences inside the magical headquarters, with a daring escape scene stealing the thunder.
Dan Fogler has the comic relief portion, starring as the human who is unwittingly drawn into the wizards’s reality. One of the best parts of his role is how his character is a summation of everything great about the golden age of America and it never feels forced. Alison Sudol stars as a telepathic love interest who outshines her classic good looks with empathy and wit. These are desperate times, despite them not involving He Who Will Not Be Named, and the film does a great job at making things count by focusing on the social issues of a city tearing itself apart. Colin Farrell’s Graves is under cooked, due to the nonsensical script. When it’s brilliant, it’s brilliant, but the moments in between are confusing and often hard to follow due to the sound editing. Despite this, once it becomes apparent that the focus is on adult wizards who are proficient in their trade, many of the conveniences of the narrative are forgivable.
Coleen Atwood’s costume design is one of the strongest elements, easily transporting the viewer to an alternate 1920’s. Every character’s ensemble is top notch and perfectly at home in the chaos. David Allday’s art direction bolsters the roaring 20’s veneer by sprinkling mystifying artifacts throughout, with a sequence inside an arcane speakeasy being the centerpiece. Music icon James Newton Howard’s score is the final touch, using the familiar notes of the franchise to create a foundation for an entirely new vision that mimics the child like awe of Newt’s perspective.
There are stumbles in the set up, but once it calms down, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them becomes one of the best films in the series. If there is a flaw it’s in the climax, which forgoes the academic problem solving of the central act for a CGI bonanza, complete with city destruction and dazzling light effects. The subplot that leads to the final showdown is shallow and tacked on, but this is easily forgotten thanks to the amazing work of the central quartet, whose actions would gain them an instant invitation to Dumbledore’s Army.
In theaters now, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a worthy entry into one of the most popular film franchises of all time. Featuring a touching lead performance, crisp visuals, and a softball ending, this is a film that reminds the viewer, what it’s all about: Telling an engrossing story that allows the audience to have a memorable and enjoyable time in a world that appears different from their own, but also a place with hope, goodwill, and heroes to root for.