Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) Retrospective Review

Time: 133 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander
Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein
Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski
Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein
Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone
Samantha Morton as Mary Lou Barebone
Jon Voight as Henry Shaw Sr.
Carmen Ejogo as Seraphina Picquery
Colin Farrell as Percival Graves
Director: David Yates

The year is 1926, and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident, were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.

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After re-watching the Harry Potter movies, I was originally just going to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, not re-review it. It’s not like my Batman v Superman or Man of Steel retrospective reviews where I had as massive amount of things still left to say about it, or my Suicide Squad or Spectre retrospective reviews where my opinion had changed drastically from when I wrote the initial reviews. I still like Fantastic Beasts quite a bit, however I think I was a little too favourable towards the movie at the time of its release. Looking back at it now, there are some problems with it, mainly with the story trying to mix two different plotlines together (not entirely successfully). But it still has some good things to it.

J.K. Rowling this time round writes the script herself, and she did a good job. With that said, it could’ve been better. The story isn’t the most interesting but it has some good parts to it. I really liked the decision to be set in the 1920s and in America this time, it’s one of the best things in the movie as we get to see a different side to the wizarding world that we haven’t seen before. It adds some new concepts, creatures, different governments and rules and other related things to the universe, so it’s not just a re-tread of what we already know. On top of that, we get to see adult wizards using magic to their fullest potential, as for as spectacular some of the magic scenes were in the Harry Potter movies, for the most part we only got to see a certain level of magic, especially with our protagonists. Now for the biggest problem that Fantastic Beasts has: it feels like it’s trying to be a different kind of Harry Potter movie focussing on a different character in the wizarding world (Newt Scamander) and while trying to be its own thing while at the same time focussing on a mysterious destructive force (the Obscurial) while world building for sequels involving Grindelwald. The two don’t mix well, especially when one has a whimsical and light hearted tone and the other is a dark political thriller, it’s really jarring. Not only that, but you also have this really dark subplot involving Ezra Miller and child abuse, which doesn’t work at all with the Newt Scamander plot. As for the plots themselves, the Newt Scamander plot wasn’t the most interesting and is quite drawn out but it was fun at times. The other plot involving Grindelwald and the Obscurial is more interesting but it’s the secondary plot and so feels rather limited. I was more of a fan of the Grindelwald plotline anyway, but its clear that one of these plotlines should’ve taken the lead. I will say that although I liked watching it, the first Fantastic Beasts isn’t very memorable.

Eddie Redmayne is perfectly cast as Newt Scamander, his awkwardness and quirks really fits the character well. The rest of the main cast, Katherine Waterson and Alison Sudol as Tina and Queenie Goldstein as well as Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, the muggle, are also quite good (though Sudol gets the least to do as we learn the least about her characters out of the 4). I’m glad that we’ll be getting more of this cast in the sequels. Ezra Miller is good as his character but he’s not given enough to really do, Miller really does elevate his character through his performance though. I’m just glad that he’s in the sequel so he can do more. Jon Voight was fine in the movie but he does feel out of place and unneeded. I really like Colin Farrell and I liked his performance here as Percival Graves, being quite an effective villain. While some didn’t like it, I personally liked the twist with Graves secretly being Gellert Grindelwald. What I don’t like is the fact that Grindelwald would end up being played by Johnny Depp instead. Farrell had the right feel for Grindelwald, the way he carried himself, delivered his lines, all of it was perfect. And we go from a very solid and well tuned performance to one that was much sillier in comparison. In his 30 seconds of screentime, Depp either seemed like one of his characters or a generic cartoonish villain, neither is idea for the role. It doesn’t help that he looks like a Johnny Depp character, with the white hair, the moustache, he just looked really goofy. Even his line deliveries (all 2 of them) were that of a clichéd villain. So a lot of the shock of the twist is undercut by such a poor first impression by Johnny Depp, and ends up being one of the biggest downgrades in movie history. Only time will tell if Depp ends up surprising us all in the role.

David Yates’s direction of the movie is solid once again. The production design is solid, setting things right in the 1920s. The visual effects are great at times, however some of the CGI on the beasts weren’t always the best, even the CGI in some of the older Harry Potter movies looked better. Not only that, the Obscurial as a dark cloudy creature is a little too much of an over the top CGI creature and can look really messy, especially in the third act. The score by James Newton Howard is really effective.

I know that some people really don’t like Fantastic Beasts and I’m aware of its issues. I still like it (granted I’m a tad biased because I’m a pretty big Harry Potter fan) but I don’t think it’s great. I think the biggest problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be, a different story following Newt Scamander trying to retrieve some lost creatures or being a political thriller involving an Obscurial and Grindelwald, and world building as well. Fantastic Beasts tries to integrate both of these plotlines and it doesn’t really work, especially when it comes to tone. While I am nervous about the next film, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, it seems like the biggest issue in the first movie won’t be present here. From the trailers at least, it seems like it’s focussed up on what it really wants to do, with it leaning much more into the Grindelwald and Dumbledore stuff. I’m still worried about how they’ll get Newt Scamander involved with this plotline, and I’m still very sceptical about Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, but outside of that, I’m excited for the sequel.

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