Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

After stuffing myself on Thanksgiving, I went with a group of friends and my brother to go see the newest from J.K. Rowling’s magical world, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

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As I’ve gotten older, my appreciation for the well-crafted world that J.K. Rowling dreamed up has grown and matured. What the canonical material lacked in depth and insight, I found in Tumblr’s fantastic Harry Potter community.

So what did I think of the newest prequel to the Harry Potter film franchise, which is the first of five films?

In general, I liked it! It was a fun movie to see, and it was nice to revisit the wizarding world in a new film. Sometimes, the last HP movie seems like it came out just yesterday and then I remember that it was released 5 years ago…

I have to say that having the film take place in the United States… was a fun choice, but not an obvious one. And when I say that, I mean that I frequently forgot that the events in Fantastic Beasts takes place in New York City. It still felt very British to me, except for the actors who forgot to do British accents!

Let’s talk about some of the actors and characters, shall we?

  • Eddie Redmayne is a darling. Here’s a great piece by Bustle about the roles he has chosen and how they challenge toxic masculinity. I have to agree that Newt Scamander is not a traditional Male Movie Hero. He seemed to struggle socially, but he cared so deeply for his beasts that he was smuggling in his suitcase. (There is a theory I like that Newt has adapted his body language to be non-threatening based on his experiences with his fantastic beasts.) You do root for him, and I think we needed a male hero like Newt.
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  • I can’t say that I particularly liked Katherine Waterson’s Tina Goldstein. She seemed to struggle a lot at work (at the American Ministry of Magic, MACUSA) but her struggles seemed so easy to avoid. It was just another case of strange social interactions. Her earnesty and unwillingness to be swayed from the right path was admirable, as was her compassion that is revealed throughout the film.
    Image result for fantastic beasts tina
  • Apparently people have been talking about Alison Sudol’s Queenie a lot, because she’s a very Marilyn Monroe-esque character who is ultra feminine in contrast to her sister Tina, who is no-nonsense. She even says herself that her sister is the career woman and she… isn’t. But I really liked that she is comfortable with acknowledging that she doesn’t have the same career ambitions her sister has; not everyone does, and women who don’t are not less feminist than women who do! I also loved that her thing is her prowess with Legilimency (mind-reading). It added a beautiful layer of compassion and empathy to her character, and I found her really hard to dislike.
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  • A fan-favorite character out of this film is Jacob, played by Dan Fogler, who is a muggle. Sorry, “no-maj”, ugh. He encounters the magical world the way we, the movie-goer, do: with awe and wonderment and wide eyes. Seeing this amazing, fantastical things for the first time is amazing, and while we had Harry acting as our eyes and ears in the original movies, Jacob is a funny and endearing way to experience magic as someone who did not grow up with magic. And yes, he is very funny.
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  • I think Colin Farrell is finally being recognized for having more depth as an actor, given his earlier work, but these past few years he’s really stepped up his game. He plays Percival Graves with this dark solemnity that you’ll recognize immediately, that guy who doesn’t want you to succeed, that guy whose motivations you can’t quite pin down (until the end of the movie, of course!). I love Colin Farrell and I’m glad to see him play an antagonist like this.
    Image result for fantastic beasts jacob
  • Let’s also say that Ezra Miller’s portrayal of Credence was… chilling. I am not super familiar with his work, but I felt very thoroughly on edge whenever he was on screen. Interested to see how his portrayal of Barry Allen will be!
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I had a few little issues with plot and story, and even with some of the world-building in this movie. (Why use Accio instead of Expelliarmus? Not sure.) I think the world-building in this movie was weaker than in the Harry Potter movies, but that could also be partly due to how high my expectations are after having additional world-building done by the HP fandom. Still, there were many times where I felt I had to really suspend belief.

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One thing to consider when watching is how easy the magic comes to the wizards and witches we see in this movie. We are not watching teenagers learn magic, with a few exceptions in-between. We are watching adults practice magic, as they have been doing for years, many of them who do so professionally. It’s very different and it’s something to get used to – people performing magic with little to no difficulty at all.

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The movie was a lot of fun though. Lots of action, lots of creativity and imagination. All the fantastic beasts were great. It’s a much darker movie than the Harry Potter films, and I want you to be ready for that. There is abuse. There are gruesome deaths. More serious family drama occurs. This is not a children’s movie, the way the Harry Potter movies were. It’s a movie for the young adults who watched Harry Potter when they were kids.

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Also, full disclosure, I cried a few times watching this. Okay.

How about some spoilers? After the trailer:

 

First, I forgot that Johnny Depp was slated to make a cameo in this film. He plays Gellert Grindelwald, the most dangerous dark wizard before Lord Voldemort became a thing, and he is just… repulsive. I have been very turned off of Johnny Depp roles ever since the whole situation with his ex-wife came out. (Long story short: He was so abusive that she was granted a restraining order, yet he is scoring big franchises still and she has since seen her acting career struggle. Typical.) This was not a cameo I enjoyed, needless to say.

I knew that Graves was going to be a villain, I think that was very plain to see. But the fact that he was Grindelwald took me by surprise, although the clues were there, when he gave Credence a Deathly Hallows pendant, well-known to be a symbol favored by Grindelwald. (Remember the altercation between Xenophilus Lovegood and Viktor Krum?) I think Colin Farrell carried out the “Is he a bad guy or just a guy who is upholding such a strict version of the law that he’s being a dick to everyone” vibe. But we kind of get the “he’s a bad guy” vibe when he declares a terrible wicked thing to be “useless”.

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I really enjoyed the twist about who the Obscurus is. We think that the twist is that it’ll be Credence’s sister, Modesty, and we see the clues in the misdirection (as we later learn) with the pans on her face. Shaw dies after she watches him humiliate her brother. Her mother dies after she watches her threaten her brother, who was defending her. She flees to her old house, because she knows she did it, right? Even Graves says that there is a child near Credence who trusts him and is the key.
NOPE.
It was Credence all along. Which is hard to believe because Obscuri (??) don’t usually survive more than 10 years. It’s a great second plot twist that I enjoyed but I hope does not become the norm, as I think we’re seeing a lot of twist endings and reveals that are sort of ruining the entire genre.

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This is a good one to see, but I’m not sure it captures the magic of the original films. I’m not sure I want there to be FOUR MORE of these, but we shall see!

 

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