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Movie Review: “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Theatrical Release: 11/18/2016

Theatrical Release: 11/18/2016

Synopsis

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a wizard who—after being expelled from Hogwarts—began his career searching for mystical beasts to protect and study. He ends up finding a creature that he must return to its natural habitat in the United States. However, Newt cannot exactly leave all of the creatures he cares for unattended while he travels. Thus, he gathers all of his fantastic beasts into his magical briefcase and sets out for New York City.

Once getting to New York City with his case full of creatures, things begin to go wrong very quickly. In an unfortunate bag mixup, Newt’s briefcase has wound up in the hands of an unsuspecting muggle named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who inadvertently releases some of Newt’s creatures. With several of his creatures loose in New York City, Newt must work with the muggle to find them before any one gets hurt. However, there is a criminal of the Wizarding World in New York City as well, and a local investigator—and witch—named Tina (Katherine Waterston) finds Newt’s presence in New York to be suspicious and disruptive.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

The ProsThe Cons

The Main Characters (+6pts)

Two Main Storylines (-4pts)

Colin Farrell (+3pts)

Newt Scamander (-3pts)

The Beasts (+6pts)

Remaining Beasts (-2pts)

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Pro: The Main Characters (+6pts)

There were really three main characters in this movie—Newt, Tina and Kowalski. Newt was a wizard from England, Tina (Katherine Waterston) was a witch from New York, Kowalski was a muggle, and the three got wrapped up in this adventure together. I really liked the actors who played these characters and I liked the chemistry between the group. Kowalski was definitely the comedic relief of the movie and worked really well as such.

There were some laughs, but it was not over-done and it did not feel forced. I also liked the dynamic between Newt and Tina. The filmmakers touched on the differences in wizard slang between England and the United States, and I thought this made the world feel very lived in. Then there was the relationship between these three characters, which grew throughout the movie in an interesting way and I look forward to seeing it grow even further in future movies. Half the battle in starting a franchise like this is providing characters that the audience will want to follow throughout future movies. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them did this well by establishing an effective core group of protagonists.

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Con: Two Main Storylines (-4pts)

This movie had two main plots happening simultaneously. The first was Newt's objective. His goal was completely separate from the goals of the rest of the characters in the Magical Congress of the United States of America—I am pretty sure that was the name of their organization. As we saw in the trailer, creatures escaped from Newt's suitcase, causing Newt to be sidelined from his original goal, as he hoped to re-capture them.

That was the storyline that the trailers gave us, but there was another major storyline—one involving the U.S. Magical Congress. This was not advertised as far as I know, so I will not spoil it here in case there are any readers who have yet to see the movie. That being said, I understand why the movie needed two main storylines. The first was our main character’s storyline for this first movie, while the other set things up for future movies in the franchise. Unfortunately, it felt like these two plots were forced together, and I would have liked to have seen the filmmakers do a better job of connecting the two plots. The two plots just felt disconnected, and forcing them both in here resulted in neither getting the screen-time or development necessary to be very impactful.

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Pro: Colin Farrell (+3pts)

I really liked this character. The filmmakers really tried to keep you guessing on what his intentions were and I thought that it worked really well for the movie. The character did not get a ton of focus, but the character was mysterious. I never really knew what side he was on, but I knew that he was definitely up to something, and I was interested to see what that would turn out to be.

A role like this would not work if the actor in the role was unable to play the character effectively. He had to play the character in a way that was believable—whether he ended up being good or bad—and he needed to do it in a way that made the character intriguing, all while getting relatively little screen time. I thought Colin Farrell nailed it, and kept me guessing the whole time. Was the character good or evil? You will have to see the movie and find out for yourself, but I enjoyed his role in this story.

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Con: Newt Scamander (-3pts)

I thought Eddie Redmayne did a decent enough job in the role of Newt Scamander, and I know that the guy can act. The character itself, however, was a bit of a mess. Putting aside the weird noises and behavior, the character was supposed to be an expert on creatures, yet he did a poor job of keeping track of them—as the plot of the movie made painfully obvious. Additionally, we did not get enough of his backstory regarding his deep passion for creatures.

He was basically PETA in the Wizarding World, but the movie did not properly tell us why he loved creatures so much. I understood that he cared about them, but knowing why he cared about them as much as he did would have helped get me more invested in the character. The filmmakers touched on it, but I do not think it was enough. Maybe they will do a prequel series of movies that explain Newt Scamander’s origin.

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Pro: The Beasts (+6pts)

This was crucial. In a movie titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the quality of the beasts could have made or broken the movie as a whole. The beasts could not have been ridiculous—either from the concept or CGI—and for the most part they were not. There were a couple silly ones, but these ones worked comedically. There were also plenty of big, fantastical monsters and it was really interesting to see how Newt dealt with each them. Almost none were too weird, but there was one for which Newt had to do a weird dance to capture. I could have done without that scene, but most of the creatures were interesting, they felt mystical, and I enjoyed seeing their varying behaviors, what they could do, and how Newt tried to tame them.

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Con: Remaining Beasts (-2pts)

As the trailer showed, Newt had this briefcase that contained many "fantastic beasts", and—when he got to New York City—a bunch of them were inadvertently set loose upon the city. As I explained before, I thought Newt did a poor job of keeping track of them, but the filmmakers did just as poor a job. We saw the case open, but we did not see how many creatures escaped or what they looked like. Newt, however seemed to know—or thought he knew—just how many were missing. Each time he caught one, he would say how many were left to find. This will make you try to keep track of how many were left as well.

However, you will know that he was either wrong in his count, or that he caught some that the movie did not show. Even now, after seeing the movie, there is one that I can think of that he saw a couple times, but never caught. As far as I am concerned that creature is still freely roaming New York, but it was never addressed. Unless I blinked for a second and missed him catching the creature, it was still out there roaming New York City when the movie ended. It was not a huge deal, but I thought it was a weird move by the filmmakers to have Newt counting down the creatures he still had to catch, only to have his count be inaccurate. Instead, they could have just had him, you know, not verbally count them down.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: B- (81pts)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them had its issues, but I still enjoyed it to an extent. The plot—or plots—felt forced together to a complicated degree. The main character was under developed so was unrelatable, but the dynamic between him and the other two main characters—Tina and Kowalski—was fun to watch. I enjoyed watching this movie, as it reintroduced us to the Wizarding World, as well as introduced us to new creatures and characters. The creatures were definitely "fantastic" and I enjoyed seeing the variety, as well as how Newt interacted with each creature differently. The movie had its plot related issues, but I still enjoyed revisiting the Wizarding World with this movie.