Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) Review
Squeezing Blood from a Niffler
The day Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released, five years and three days had passed since the last Harry Potter film was theatrically released while Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone debuted over 15 years ago in theaters. Partly based on a book that serves as an index or encyclopedia of the beasts, creatures, and monsters found in the world of Harry Potter (aka the Harry Potter Pokedex), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first film where Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has taken a shot at writing the screenplay for one of the films and the first film in the entire franchise to feature a brand new story. David Yates, director of the last four Harry Potter films, has directed this film with the intention of directing the film’s four proposed sequels.
The film follows British wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he travels to New York carrying a magic briefcase full of wondrous and terrifying creatures. Newt studies these magical beasts with the intention of writing a book that will educate his fellow wizards, who currently have little to no understanding of how dangerous or harmless each individual critter is. Taking place in 1926 (70 years before Harry Potter and the year Voldemort was born), several of Newts subjects escape and unleash a sizeable wave of mischief upon New York City.
Newt enlists the help of a No-Maj (a non-magical human and the American version of a Muggle) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who works in a canning factory, has dreams of opening a bakery, and has no idea that magic or wizards exist. Meanwhile, an anal witch who works for the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) named Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) tails Newt and plans to bring him in for not following the proper magical procedure of traveling abroad. After a savage invisible creature kills a human, Newt is put in the crosshairs which has MACUSA put its best man on the case; a high ranking Auror (a law enforcement officer who specializes in capturing Dark wizards) named Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).
Eddie Redmayne has peculiar behavior down to a fine science. His performance as Newt Scamander is twitchy and unusual, but his mild mannered behavior and soft spoken quirkiness gives the character this awkward charm that leaves you with no choice but to love the character. The supporting cast is the best part of the film. Dan Fogler has often played the comedic sidekick who is usually no more than a throwaway (and often R-rated, raunchy, and douchey) amusing detour. His performance as Jacob Kowalski allows Fogler to bring all of his talent to the table. Kowalski is overwhelmed at first by the discovery of magic, but gets to the point where he can’t see himself living without it. Fogler is charming, funny, and down to earth in a way that allows every human in the audience to relate to him.
Alison Sudol has this emotional glow about her every time she’s on screen. She portrays Tina’s telepathic sister Queenie Goldstein. She taps into other people’s feelings and memories with ease and is both sympathetic and heartfelt when discussing someone’s private matters. Ron Perlman has this elegant and passionate demeanor about him as the goblin gangster and nightclub owner Gnarlack. The character is backstabbing and untrustworthy, but you can recognize how much fun the small role is for Perlman; he plays sleaze so well.
The creatures themselves are colorful, unique, and entertaining to witness how they’re going to act, sound, or react around humans. The favorite has to be this thieving platypus varmint called a Niffler. Nifflers are attracted to shiny things like coins and jewelry. The Niffler has some of the most hilarious moments in the film and his body language alone will get some of the biggest laughs. The fantasy film refuses to reveal much about Newt, which is incredibly infuriating. His past with a certain someone is barely scratched upon and is probably setting up something bigger later on. In the meantime, you’re left with this bizarre loner who really likes being alone with his animals which could be seen as creepy in itself.
What takes away from the enjoyment factor of Fantastic Beasts is how goofy it is. Every creature retrieval has the utmost amount of campiness injected into it and it becomes overbearing in a very short amount of time. The actor portraying Gellert Grindelwald is the worst kept secret on the internet, but he doesn’t make much of an impact in this film. The film will appeal to you if you’re a fan of the other films or have read the books, but seems to be slightly boring and silly if you fall outside of that category. If a film is only enjoyable if you’ve only read the source material it’s based on, then it isn’t doing its job correctly. A cinematic experience should be entertaining in its own right and at least attempt to cater to everyone; not just die-hard fans.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them captures the essence of Harry Potter flawlessly. There’s this wave of nostalgia revolving around the adventures of Newt Scamander that reminds you of Harry’s journey, but expands upon an already well-developed wizarding world that allows this film to at least have the potential to feel like a fresh expedition that delves into unexplored terrain. However, Fantastic Beasts leaps into ludicrous territory without regret far too often. Its formulaic and ridiculous display tarnishes a fifteen year old franchise that leaves you with the question, “Is J.K. Rowling just milking it?”