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Friday, February 3, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

Decent Franchises and How to Start Them

For those looking to fill the Potter-sized whole in their heart, I'm curious to know if "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" will actually do the trick. While watching the film, all it did was make me long for the day when I had seen the first "Harry Potter" film for the first time; I wasn't nearly as excited for the dawn of a new franchise as I was back in 2001.
Don't get me wrong - there's plenty of razzle dazzle in David Yates' latest imagining of J.K. Rowling's latest entry to her wizarding world (Yates directed the fifth through the final "Harry Potter" films and Rowling is making her screenwriting debut). The film makes effective use of the IMAX format, which most films use to increase ticket prices. Yates' stunning attention to detail and Rowling's imagination immerse us in this world but as an entire experience, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" doesn't add up to much more than a shrug and maybe a smile.

If you're an expert on Potter lore, you know that "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" is the name of a textbook that is used at Hogwarts. The film is set 70 years before Harry Potter ever stepped foot in the famous school. This time around, we follow Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he travels to New York City in the 1920s with a suitcase filled with an array of mystical creatures. One gets loose, wreaking havoc throughout the city.

Newt needs to retrieve his beasts before anything happens to them or anyone else. He's accompanied by a "No-Maj" (no magic - this film's version of a Muggle) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Tina (Katherine Waterston), low-tier agent in the Magical Congress for the United States of America (MACUSA).
It doesn't stop there. There's also Colin Farrell's Percival Graves, who never seems to be up to any good, Samantha Morton as the head of a witch-hunting group and her adopted son Credence, played by Ezra Miller. Morton and Miller's storyline give the film a distractingly dark tone, which doesn't quite mesh with the fanciful beasts.
"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" doesn't really prove anything new within this world but reiterates that Rowling's imagination is endless. It's a stunning example of her creativity and while she creates a richly detailed new world for us, there is way too much happening in one movie. It has been reported that the "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" franchise will consist of five - five! - films but the movie doesn't really leave any kind of indication that there is a lot left to be said.
Redmayne works well as a twitchy and awkward Newt. Whether starring in Oscar-type biopics or chewing scenery in the wonderfully bad "Jupiter Ascending," Redmayne is an interesting actor to watch. He works best against Fogler: the pair have a fun wizard and No-Maj chemistry.
The movie offers great effects and production design and its whimsy works in large spurts but "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" might have gotten a little ahead of itself in trying to be a huge franchise starter. The final product adds up to something uneven rather than wholly magical.

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