'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' Review
(Written for The Harry Potter Blogathon at First Impressions Reviews)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the newest addition to the Harry Potter universe, the first film about J.K Rowling's Wizarding World in five years and the world renowned author's first screenplay. So why wasn't I more excited about it? Well honestly, I've been beginning to think she needs to let sleeping dragons lie. I've heard some less than complimentary things about Cursed Child and also what's with those E-Books she brought out? I know none of us want to leave Harry's world behind, but with every new addition to the canon I worry she's going to ruin everything by going one step to far. Still, I was excited enough to go along to the midnight screening of Fantastic Beasts last night, and now I can rest easy. It was actually really good!
The new characters were set up as well as the new world, but characterisation has always been one of J.K Rowling's greatest strengths. I felt like it took us a little while to properly get to know Newt, but when we did he was warm and likeable, if a bit of an oddball. Yet he wasn't the only hero of the film, but joined by three extremely likeable fellow protagonists - disgraced Auror, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Watson) her sister Queenie, a legillimens with a Marlilyn Monroe-like quality (Alison Sudol) and Jakob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) - a No-Maj with dreams of opening a bakery. I warmed to all of them, and I loved the fact that Jakob wasn't magical. We haven't had that dynamic before in Harry Potter - a muggle who gets to be a part of the real action and is actually excited by the idea of magic, and it worked well. I was also presently surprised by Queenie, who, from clips I'd seen, I'd expected to be a bit of a caricature. In actual fact she was lovely, and possibly even my favourite of the four. Tina was nice too, but like Newt, she's still a bit of a mystery. I'm looking forward to finding out more about her as the films go on and seeing her relationship with Newt develop. The two girls are relative unknowns but they did a great job, and the four together made a great team.
The basic plot of the film is that when Newt arrives in America with a case full of the titular fantastic beasts, they inevitably escape and cause havoc around the city. Tina and Jakob both witness the escape and she tries to clean up Newt's mess while a bewildered Jakob is dragged into it with him. It's the worst possible time for a breach in the international statute of secrecy, as Wizard/No-Maj relations are at a dangerous stage and there's a cult-ish group about called The Second Salemers, No-Maj's dedicated to the persecution of witches. The dark wizard Grindelwald (remember him?) has also escaped prison and is said to be gaining support among some of the magical community. To top it all off there's something darker than Newt's beasts terrorizing the city and causing big trouble for M.A.C.U.S.A.
I did enjoy the plot, but I felt some of the Second Salemers stuff was a bit heavy handed. There was an abuse storyline that I found a bit dark and I also thought there were a few things they could have done with explaining a bit more. Also, at times I couldn't help thinking of Pokémon. Still, it was engaging and I didn't fall asleep in the cinema despite already being tired when I got there - so that's a plus! There was a lot I really loved, including the scene where Newt and Jakob go back to the girls' apartment and first meet Queenie, and the scene in the speakeasy with all the Goblins and house elves. And I didn't see the final twist coming, although, having picked up on certain things I probably should have guessed! There were enough nods to the original Potter films to add some continuity and remind us we're in the same world, but no so much that we were taken out of this new story. I think they've set up a lot of good stuff for the following films, and I'm excited to see where the Grindelwald thread takes us and what the main four characters do next. There was a bit of romance, a good balance of action and the costumes (I love that Newt wears his Hufflepuff scarf!) and overall look of the thing were fantastic as ever. There was a great cast, including Colin Farrell, John Voight and Ezra Miller, and also quite a few familiar faces in bit parts, which makes me think they'll play a larger role in the later films?
Overall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a really fun film that I think all the family - and possibly even non-Potterheads - would enjoy. I'd recommend digging out your old copies of the book before you go, because it's fun being able to identify the different creatures that pop up - Billywigs, Murtlaps and the like. There were some, however, that I'm pretty sure weren't listed - maybe that's why they're releasing a new, updated version of the book? Either way you might want to hold on to your first editions - it looks like these films will be big, maybe they'll be worth something someday?