Fantastic Beasts Review!

Jondee here at MACUSA,

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an original story from J.K. Rowling, a prequel series in a way to Harry Potter, and brings new characters, setting, and creatures to the Wizarding World. This is Rowling’s first foray into screenwriting and if you have read her books, then you might get the pattern; rumors of a Dark Wizard, a Wizard making his way in a strange world (in this case America with the time period it may be strange to the American audience), and with the help of his allies takes on the latest challenge. The film directed by Harry Potter vet, David Yates, gives a hint of the Harry Potter theme, this time with James Newton Howard, new to the franchise. Then, we get the headlines from what looks like the Daily Prophet, the danger of the wizard Gellert Grindelwald, the look at the date 1926, and some problems with the Magical Congress of the USA (pronounced Ma-koosa). This shifts to the USA, where we get the steam ship heading to dock and unload its passengers. Including one fellow in a blue coat and suitcase. Colleen Atwood’s costumes are stunning, you can see the character in each of the costumes!  This is of course Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Redmayne is able to have Newt as a good natured wizard who is brilliant with beasts, but socially awkward with other wizards. Newt is working on the book in the film’s title that becomes a standard textbook for Hogwarts and based on the charity book that Rowling wrote during the Potter days. We find out that like Harry that Dumbledore, now a teacher, has vouched for him at Hogwarts. There is a slight mention of the American school, Ilvermorny, but there might be more of it in a sequel. Then, we get a shattered building with a man explaining that it was a dark storm. Another man is there in a coat with slicked back hair, we find out much later that this is Percival Graves (Colin Farrell). Farrell plays Graves as stern and relentless.  Newt checks into customs and then heads off to see a demonstration by the New Salem Philanthropic Society. He bumps into a man with another suitcase, again later we find it’s Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). He is not the usual sidekick, actually a No-Maj (the American term for Muggle, non-magical person), so he’s our pov character into the magical world. I recognize Fogler from many comedies and it is the same with Robbie Coltrane, where he makes you really like the character. Fogler has all of the funny lines, you expect it, and still can’t wait to see his reaction to the magic. Newt is followed by a mysterious woman, Porpentina Goldstein, shortened to Tina (Katherine Waterson). I have to say she easily takes Hermione’s place as my favorite female character in the Harry Potter series. She has the most dramatic part as a failed ex-Auror who wants to get redemption, Waterson is brilliant!

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One of the beasts slips out of Newt’s suitcase, the flipping latch is something you pay attention to, and he has to get past the leader of the demonstration, Mary Lou (Samantha Morton). She is a driven fanatic, seemingly calm, and has her young charges to pass out flyers something like Fagin from Oliver Twist. This includes the strange bowl-cut Credence (Ezra Miller). Newt finds that the missing beast is the Niffler, this guy is a scene stealer, and also steals metal objects. The creature designs are incredible, this guy looks like a furry mole with a platypus face. He also carries along a Bowtruckle named Pickett, a tiny green root with two leaves for hair. Newt has to follow the clever beast into a bank. Also, there is Jacob who is trying to get a loan to open a bakery, he wants to get away from his cannery job. Newt ends up sitting next to Jacob and then leaves to see the Niffler sneaking around the bank. He leaves behind a silver egg from an Occamy which is taken by Jacob and he gets rejected for not having any collateral even though he has a suitcase of baked desserts. Jacob finds Newt at the bank vault, he opens it and catches the Niffler shaking and tickling it to drop all of his stolen coins and jewelry. The police catch them, but the hatched egg causes rumbling and Newt apparates himself and Jacob outside of the bank. This is a twist and sudden appearance elsewhere that non-Potterheads will be able to understand. Jacob walks away with a suitcase, you might guess which one, and Newt is taken into custody by Tina who wanted him to obliviate, take away the memory of, the No-Maj. She takes him to the Woolworth Building and a side entrance opens up to the MACUSA which somehow reminded me of Men in Black. She tries to get Newt to be seen by the head of the organization Madame President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo), elegant in her dress, and patient except with Tina. We find that Tina is actually a clerk for magical licenses. Jacob accidentally opens the suitcase, he is attacked by a Murtlap, a coiled, scarf-like beast that bites him! Some of the beasts escape into the streets of New York. Tina takes Newt and Jacob to her place and they meet her sister, Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol). She likes to display her womanly talents, but also is skilled in Legilimency, reading minds, which helps to find out men are thinking.

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Queenie is fascinated by Jacob and he has fallen for her. He is also stunned at magic, but this turns to wonder and a need to be around it more. Newt takes him down into his suitcase, we know that like a Tardis, it has an Undetectable Extension Charm which has entire worlds in the suitcase. It is a musty room that expands to various environments that in part look computer generated and the other part is that it is so beautiful and fantastic I don’t care. Newt warns Jacob away from a black, shadowy form that is contained which we find out is an Obscurial. The Thunderbird is there which Newt intended to take to Arizona. There are four beasts that have escaped the suitcase; the Niffler, an Erumpent (had to consult my Fantastic Beasts to check that one), a white, rhinoceros-like beast, the Swooping Evil, Newt winds it like a yo-yo, but it unfolds into a green and purple flying beast, and the Demiguise, a white haired lemur-like beast with an old face, who can turn invisible. There is also a Billywig, a blue flying bug that Newt sees around the other beasts. The beasts are strange and creative. We also find that Credence is working to help Graves. He is tracking down some evil that is running through New York. MACUSA puts the blame of all of the troubles on Newt’s escaped beasts, but we start to know that they are kinda harmless. The evil threat is a danger to the world. It may have something to do with Credence’s sister with the long stare, Modesty (Faith Wood-Blagrove). Mary Lou takes along Credence, Modesty, and other kids to meet with a publisher, Henry Shaw (Jon Voight) and his son, Henry Shaw, Jr. (Josh Cowdery), who is getting ready for a senatorial campaign. He shows contempt for Credence whom he calls a freak. Newt and friends have to track down the beasts, escape MACUSA, and deal with the greater evil. They go to a speakeasy bar to meet with an elf who knows things, Gnarlack voiced obviously by Ron Perlman. The downside is that the film takes it’s time to introduce character names, except for the main characters, many just go unknown. This film uses 3D to full effect, bricks explode, magic flies, and you can go face to face with the beasts. In comparison to other Harry Potter films, this is less learning about magic, and slowly getting into the Wizarding World, this is adults Wizards in what turns out to be a dangerous threat. I have to compare this film to another which featured a certain Sorcerer Supreme, this one stands out because I really want to see it again, not so the other movie. Four Fantastic Beasts out of Five!

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