WARNING: Spoilers abound especially towards the end so if you haven’t seen this film and DON’T want to know…turn back now!!!
Well…of all the surprises I was expecting/hoping for this year, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was definitely the biggest! I say this because I originally had no plans to see this film at all. With all due respect to the legions of Harry Potter fans, this is one film franchise I just couldn’t get into. But then, due to a podcast commitment, I decided to give this film a chance and wow!!! I’m so glad I did!
The magical world in 1920s America is beautifully realized, with one of my favorite parts being the magical speakeasy (with a house elf singer no less, at least, I think she was a house elf, please correct me if I’m wrong). My only complaint is the insistence on calling non-magical people “no-maj’s”. I mean, seriously, that just sounds stupid. Can’t Muggle just be the universal term for people with no magic? But really, that was my only major complaint (well, there is one other minor issue, but I’ll come to that momentarily).
The Beasts are beautifully rendered, and their home inside the magical suitcase is one of the highlights of the film (James Newton Howard outdid himself with a beautiful score). For most of the film, my favorite Beast was the Niffler, a creature that somewhat resembles a mole, and has an insatiable desire for all things shiny and valuable (to put it bluntly, he’s a kleptomaniac who likes to swipe gold and jewelry). In fact, there’s a hilarious sequence where Newt Scamander (a brilliant Eddie Redmayne) attempts to get the Niffler out of a jewelry store with “bull in the china shop” consequences. But then Newt introduces us to the Thunderbird and I knew I’d found my favorite magical creature. The Thunderbird is a huge, gorgeous creature with gold and silver in its feathers (and according to Newt is a native of Arizona) that has the power to generate thunderstorms, hence its name. Seeing a bird like that made me wish (again) that this magical world really did exist. The other beasts are also well-done (one creature had to be tracked down in a zoo, leading to a funny moment where Newt has to imitate a mating ritual to lure the beast back into the suitcase).
And then there’s the American wizards and witches….Tina and Queenie are an interesting pair of sisters (I love Queenie, I really do), and it was cool to see how life went on in their apartment (with all the magical activity). The President of MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) is a reasonably good person who just wants to protect her fellow witches and wizards from a populace that would most likely lynch them all if the truth ever got out. And then there’s Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a high-ranking Auror with his own agenda. He’s initially presented as a stern, but reasonable man. If someone presents him with firm evidence of something, he’ll act on it. But there’s a lot more to Graves than meets the eye (more on that shortly).
And I can’t forget Jacob Kowalski, the “No-maj” of the story who becomes tangled up in this magical adventure (to his growing delight). He simply wants to open a bakery because that’s what he loves to do, but a chance encounter with Newt changes everything. He really steals the show at several points throughout the story, and I hope he turns up in the sequel, I really do.
Back to Percival Graves: it turns out he’s hunting through New York City for a certain child, one that contains incredible power that’s been repressed into what’s known as an “Obscurious.” Graves is desperate to find this individual and is using a young man named Credence to help him do it. It turns out that Credence had magical parents (at least his mother was magical) but his mother died giving birth to him and he was adopted by a cruel no-Maj woman who beats him every chance she gets. Graves has promised Credence that if he can find this child, Graves will take him away to the magical world and teach him magic. But once Credence believes the child in question is his foster sister Modesty, Graves abandons him, believing Credence to be a Squib (child of magical parents but with no talent for it themselves). Well…as it turns out, Credence had the repressed power all along (much to Graves’ surprise) and though Graves (and Newt) attempt to save Credence, other Aurors swoop in and kill him. Newt had been suspicious of Graves for a while and after binding the Auror with one of his creatures, he uses a revealing spell and…surprise surprise, Graves is actually the notorious wizard Grindelwald played by Johnny Depp!! I’m not sure how I feel about this casting choice to be honest, I mean it COULD be okay, but he’s onscreen for maybe five minutes maximum so you can’t really gauge how he’s going to play the character yet. I’m actually a little disappointed because I’d gotten used to Colin Farrell and I would’ve been intrigued to see him continue in the role.
Final verdict: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was an enjoyable ride that’s left me excited for the sequels that are sure to follow.
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