Main cast: Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander), Katherine Waterston (Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein), Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski), Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein), Colin Farrell (Percival Graves), Carmen Ejogo (President Seraphina Picquery), Ezra Miller (Credence Barebone), Faith Wood-Blagrove (Modesty Barebone), and Samantha Morton (Mary Lou Barebone)
Director: David Yates
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is inspired by the novelty book written by JK Rowling to make more money off her Harry Potter books, and this movie explores one of the many adventures that led to the writing of that book. Ms Rowling also wrote the script herself. Does this mean that the blame for the goofy hair growing on the heads of Eddie Redmayne and Ezra Miller is to be laid on her? Then again, Eddie Redmayne still manages to look so beautiful despite the mop on his head, it’s almost obscene.
Oh yes, the story. Mr Redmayne plays Nude Salamander… oh wait, Newt Scamander, the magizoologist who wrote the textbook of the same name as this movie. His claim to fame is that, despite being kicked out of Hogwarts after a stunt gone awry, he manages to do a lot of wonderful things for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures in the Ministry of Magic. When this one opens, it’s 1926 and he has come all the way from England to New York, supposedly to purchase a magical beast. Things go wrong along the way when he accidentally switches his magical suitcase with a No-Maj, Jacob Kowalski, and Jacob unknowingly releases some of the magical beasts Newt has kept in that suitcase.
Eventually, Newt and Jacob scramble across New York looking for those escaped beasts while tagging along are Tina, a demoted auror who is not sure whether Newt is a spy for the evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald or not, and Queenie, Tina’s sister who is infatuated with Jacob.
Meanwhile, Percival Graves, the Director of Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), enlists Credence Barebone, the adopted son of a woman who runs a society devoted to the extermination of all magic-users, to seek out a child who is possessed by a powerful entity called the Obscurus. Little do Newt and friends realize that they would soon be dragged into this subplot that will culminate in something best described as a vomitous splattering of CGI non-stop across the screen.
As JK Rowling tends to do with her stories, this one pushes forth a British supremacy agenda so hard that it is actually hilarious. The MACUSA is supposedly trained to ensure that the No-Majs (the American term for Muggles, an elitist term used by these magical people to describe common folks, and no, that is not elitist at all, the use of such terms, because JK Rowling is a champion of diversity and she would never push forth an elitist concept – NEVER) will never discover the existence of these amazing, beautifully formed magical beings who look just like statuette models in beauty magazines. But here, they basically just stand there gaping while Newt – a magizoologist, mind you, and not someone trained specifically in MACUSA woo-woo – basically kicks rear ends all over the place. Who’s choking at that tea party now, Americans? Newt gets to leave behind a swathe of chaos and mess, apparently unnoticed by MACUSA, so I don’t know, maybe the MACUSA is busy ferreting out the threat of Grindelward? Actually, they aren’t – they are just here to be like those useless cops who only show up when the good guys have already wiped up most of everyone’s mess.
Also, for some weird reason, Tina is useless as a lead female character – her existence is defined solely to be Newt’s love interest and future wife as well as someone he will rescue and demonstrate his superior intellectual and physical prowess to. Queenie is far more proactive and resourceful than Tina. The President of MACUSA is a woman, but given how impotent MACUSA is on the whole here, and how she seems to be manipulated by Graves for the most part, she’s not exactly some character to root for. While I don’t believe that every female character needs to be kick-ass and spunky, I’m taken aback by how… traditional, for the want of a better word, the portrayal of the female characters are in here, especially in a movie scripted by someone who is all about progressive portrayals of women in the media and what not.
Still, the movie is pretty watchable – exciting even, although I confess that I soon tire of the overload of CGI in this movie. I know, that is a weird thing to say for a movie that is entirely reliant on studio magic, but the CGI here, while pretty, feels soulless. Close-ups on the magical beasts reveal lifeless, very fake-looking eyes, for example, never letting me forget that this movie is probably 90% green, blue or whatever screen. On the bright side, Mr Redmayne seems to be enjoying himself as Newt, and I can’t help liking an action hero who is nonetheless awkward around the ladies. Dan Fogler is excellent as Jacob – he has everything from comic timing to emotional poignancy down pat, and I hope this isn’t the last we’d see of that character.
This movie also seems torn between wanting to be for kids and for adults. I’m not sure whether it succeeds in striking a middle ground, as on one hand, we have these adults fighting by waving tiny wands – more embarrassing than awe-inspiring – and on the other hand, there are some scenes which try too hard to bring on the nudge-wink thing, such as everything related to a scene involving a horny rhinoceros-like beast. There are underlying sobering themes in this movie, which blurs considerably the black and white concept of good versus evil, that will fly over the heads of younger kids, but are delivered via action scenes that are the result of Sesame Street channeling Michael Bay while doing an adaptation of a Pokémon GO game. The movie goes from kiddie mode to adult mode in a way that never feels cohesive to me.
Anyway, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is meant to be the first in 600 movies, and Eddie Redmayne makes a pretty good impression as the Pokémon trainer from England, so, at the very least, this one did its job as a hook to reel people into watching those other movies. But maybe Ms Rowling should look into getting better script doctors for the script next time around.