Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) Review

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8/10

Would it be sacrilege to say that I liked this film far better than the actual Harry Potter films? I mean, the Potter ones are fine but I did reach a saturation point after 8 films. Fantastic Beasts enlarges the Potterverse, introduces some lovely new characters and is nicely self-contained. It made me excited again to get involved in Rowling’s world.

Fantastic Beasts is so much more about the characters than I dared to dream. I mean, say the words magic, beasts and New York and it would be wise to expect a special-effects feast comparable to all the Marvel films. It would also be wise to expect a purely visual spectacle, in which the effects stand in for actual storytelling. But Fantastic Beasts is more than that. It is a product of attention. It is actually concerned with telling a story in which attention is payed to the characters. And I love it for that.

So, the trouble begins when an English wizard named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures. Of course they escape, and Newt and the American agent Tina go on a series of misadventures to chase the creatures and set everything right again. Eddie Redmayne seems indeed born to play a part in the Potterverse. He has this wizardly quality to him. He also acts like a lost child in New York. He stumbles about with bright eyes and mumbles and acts like his hair weights a ton, pulling his whole skull down. In short, the way you would expect a character named Newt would be like. He probably got bullied at school.

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The young woman investigating Scamander is the lovely Tina (Katherine Waterston), who gives a very authentic, involved performance. I would have liked to see Tina get her comeuppance, because she is not exactly appreciated in her work, you see. She’s an underdog. But the storyline of her being treated badly by her superiors doesn’t build towards anything.

A golden addition to the story is Dan Fogler, who plays an everyman named Kowalsky. When he first appears, he seems just a character for a single scene, a cameo, a random guy, an extra inserted to generate a quick laugh for a scene or two. But he transforms into one of the leading characters of the story and this I never expected. Kowalsky as played by Fogler is the last person to be a movie star. Don’t expect any character like that to appear in a Marvel film. But that’s what makes his character all the more likable.

Fantastic Beasts does just about everything right. It strikes a good balance between action, special effects and character development. The acting is just fine. The plot was a bit disjointed and during the first half it is not clear where this is all going. It seemed to be just a series of chases after magical beasts and I wondered if that was all that it was going to be. But the plot unfolded more and grew larger towards the end. And director David Yates takes his time to wrap up the little storylines for the characters, so that the story feels rounded and heartfelt.

Looking back at other magic-related films this year, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Doctor Strange, then Fantastic Beasts is already my favorite. I fear for the future, though. If you look at IMDb right now, you’ll see that Fantastic Beasts 2, 3, 4 AND 5 (!!) are already planned. Madness! We can only hope that David Yates, who also directed the last 4 Harry Potter films, will keep up the quality.

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