Review: Expanded from an encyclopaedia of the same title and penned to screenplay by the only J.K. Rowling, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is surprisingly a fun ride to American non-pretentious wizard world, which goes much more muggle-friendly than its British counterparts in Harry Potter series.
Set in the same universe in which Harry Potter saga takes places, Fantastic Beasts goes further behind in time as it sets in 1926, decades prior to the British counterpart. At the same time, it also goes across the ocean from London to New York in America, where the adventure of Englishman named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) straightforwardly begins. While the spin-off might present some nods to the most famous wizarding world nowadays; it never feels nostalgic nor formulaic because what’s presented here is an original tale, which enriches the existing universe with more than just trivia.
The title might be a little misleading, but it is there for a reason. There’s no real guide of ‘where to find those fantastic beasts’, but those exotic, dreamy creatures are the red herrings to the event happens in this opening of a (planned) 5-film saga. Those beasts are smuggled into the U.S. by the clumsy wizard Scamander in a personal nature conservative mission. While arriving in America, things aren’t as peaceful as expected… and that’s where those fantastic beast are leading to.
Wizard society in America is in the brink of civil war with muggle—sorry, no-maj—in aftermath of some magical events unraveled to no-majs’ eyes. In time of crisis, the unthinkable happens when some of the fantastic beasts break loose and roam around the streets. That havoc lures wizard Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) along with her sister Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and a hilarious no-maj, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to young Scamander as they manages to catch those creatures. Yet, who knows that they’ll be tangled in bigger conspiracy involving Second Salem community and American kind of Ministry of Magic.
J.K. Rowling’s first screenplay is a gift for a wider audiences, not only for Potterheads. While it’s basically a lighter Harry Potter kind of whodunit gone wrong story, it’s never been too convoluted, but never been to complicated either. The plot takes some time to intertwines several simple threads into making a holistic joyride. When Rowling’s screenplay unravels each thread, it might feel rough and jumpy, but it pays off perfectly when the showdown starts to begin and the fantastic beasts takes over the screen.
David Yates’ direction might not emanate significant improvements from his other Potter films; but how he manages to create the period piece into a living society with all the ‘annoying’ characters is a big achievement. Yates’ direction is perfected by Redmayne in his classy blockbuster outing. The Oscar-winning actor brings ‘life’ to the original character he portrays—his gesture, his eye contact and his ambiguous range of facial expression. Redmayne’s character is tad too eccentric, although not exuberantly unique in the wizard world; he has his own motivation and confidence, which he shows in his offbeat decision (including letting a no-maj enters his suitcase and witnesses all the fantastic beast he’s protecting. At whatever cost, Redmayne—who should’ve been having role in the wizard world since long ago—will always be the face of Fantastic Beast.
Redmayne isn’t the only star that shines in Fantastic Beasts. His on-screen partner, Katherine Waterston, is astoundingly making a way to cement her signature in the wizard world as determined Tina Goldstein. Same thing is shown by other actors such as Ezra Miller, as a deperate child, Credence, under the wing of Percival Graves (Colin Farrell); both actors creates unique bond, which enhances the whole performances. However, the real show-stealer is noone but Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, who makes an unforgettable no-maj/muggle, even more sympathetic than Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley.
However, the real star of Fantastic Beasts is the fictional world it introduces. While it stays the same world where Harry Potter saga takes place, it is more presentable and digestible by people who never even watch any Potter films. The details of the world—the nomenclature, the social structures, and even, the history—enriches what Potter saga has introduced, and at the same time, builds a solid foundation to stand alone or get expanded even further.
In the end, this muggle-friendly spin-off really has made a solid way to look forward to. I believe, as the franchise grows, it might be one of the biggest fictional universe to long remember (the way Star Wars is remembered). As much as Fantastic Beasts becomes a saga, which completes Potter saga (the way The Hobbit complete Lord of the Rings), it owes the first film a great debt.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
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