Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – 2016

Director David Yates
Screenplay by J.K. Rowling based on the book of the same name
Starring  Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman, Colin Farrell

Before we go any further, I have to say this: I love this movie. It does much of what Harry Potter took 8 movies to do within the space of its two hours. More than anything, it breaks the feeling of claustrophobia we had in heading back to Hogwarts every single year and exploring the cracks and crevices within its bounds.

We begin in New York back in the prohibition era. Not only is alcohol restricted, there are severe limitations for American Wizards and Witches too. Newt Scamander (Redmayne) arrives, but he’s not planning on staying. He wants to head to Arizona, where he plans to give some of his magical beasts room to thrive. Soon after he arrives, he comes across an earnest and well-meaning muggle (Fogler). They are soon tied together, for better or worse. Mostly better, really.

He also encounters Mary Lou (Morton) a muggle who thinks Magic is dangerous and is soldiering the fight to tear it out by the root. She has adopted children conscripted into her army of fear. One of these, Creedence (Miller),  is conspiring with a high-ranking Auror wizard (Farrell) to find a very powerful child. What is an Auror? Essentially a Fed.

Another low ranking Auror (Waterston) takes it upon herself to investigate the doings for Scamander. Just about the time she figures out the depth of his and his muggle friend Jacob’s doings, they all get steeped into some big trouble.

The best parts about Fantastic Beasts… is the casual nature of the story. We know there will be fireworks, but for most of the movie, there is a concentrated effort on enjoying the wonder. The vehicle for this enjoyment is Fogler, who is essentially a stand in for the viewer. We want to be amazed and don’t want to be shooed away. The muggles in the Hogwarts films are necessarily bumpkins. They have no real chance for commentary, except for the negative kind. Smartly, they make Jacob a good guy, but an average guy. People can love him because of his character, not because he knows spells. Every discovery he makes in the film is a discovery for us. We get to breathe it in, with no feeling that we should disappear.

In allowing us the chance to gaze, the filmmakers use their time wisely in developing the rest of the story. Rowling has learned how to condense over the years and it pays off with a riveting last act. By the time we get to the chase, it’s almost easy to forget that they are destroying much of the city like happens in most movies these days. It’s a fair bet you can guess if the city stays destroyed or if anyone remembers it.

Colin Farrell is absolutely stunning in his role as Auror. Playing someone with questionable motives really suits him. He’s better here than anything I have seen him in outside of his work with Brendan Gleeson.

Waterston is a major find. She is so humbly engaging, she is impossible not to love. She is able to exhibit intelligence, compassion and the emergence of strength. Let’s hope she’s given more reins than Hermoine. Even better, her younger sister Queenie (Sudol) fits the times and makes magic fun as heck. She is an exceptional supporting character.

Fogler is incredible. If they find a way to incorporate him into the future movies and somehow connect him to Hogwarts, it will make everything so much better. The possibility is there to be a very exciting union with a wonderful Witch.

Redmayne is a natural Wizard. His quirks feel at home and much less annoying than in stuff like Jupiter Ascending. He is groomed into a believable awkward hero and definitely someone upon whom is worth investing 5 films.

The very biggest drawback is in the cameo. It was enough to almost cripple my enjoyment of the series going forward. If things go heavy in the direction of that star and the character, it’s hard to get excited.

Let’s see what happens, though. They made a lot of good moves in this film. I was tired of Harry Potter’s world. Let’s be glad we’re in an entirely different part of it now.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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