Friday, August 4, 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!   Spoiler Alert:  They never give you a definitive location on where to find some fantastic beasts.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – 4 out of 5

I think it goes without saying but Harry Potter is a phenomenon.  J.K. Rowling came out of nowhere with a book about a boy wizard and it grabbed the world’s attention.  The books went on to be best sellers of the highest order, the films are absolutely adored and the fandom is incredibly loyal.  I’m not really a Potter fan myself, though.  I tried to read the first book and I have watched all the films but it’s not really my property of choice.  I have nothing against them and I’m not one of those geeks who hates things that don’t interest him with a deeper passion than they do loving the things they enjoy and I’m no longer one of those guys who believes that anyone who likes things that I’m not interested in makes that person stupid.  People like what they like and I respect that.  Hell, even though I’m not a fan I’ve sung the praises of Potter because I saw how crazy kids were for reading them and throughout my life I’ve never seen that reaction to a book before and I absolutely loved it.  With that being said, I found I was actually really interested in seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the Harry Potter spin-off.

Are the Potter-heads (that's what they call themselves, right?) going to hate
me if I say this guy is cooler than Harry?  Almost definitely.

In the 1920s, a wizard zoologist by the name of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York on a mission to set one of his magical creates free in the open plains of Arizona.  However, he arrives to find that the city is under siege by a dark, malevolent creature called the Obscurus.  The local wizards, who hide themselves from the ordinary people (or, as they call them, the No-Maj) believe that Newt is conspiring with a local dark wizard.  Now, in order to stop the Obscurus, clear his name and protect his beasts (which are quite fantastic, by the way), Newt must align himself with a No-Maj by the name of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and a demoted Auror (basically a wizard cop) named Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston).

Ah, yes, the tentacle-faced-dear-god-what-the-hell-is-that, seen here in its
natural habitat.

So, even though I’m not a fan of Harry Potter, I really enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  I really liked the characters and the story, for the most part, is pretty decent.  I will admit there were some problems with the storytelling in the fact that the antagonist doesn’t really feel developed enough and the antagonist who is pulling the strings in the background—the looming threat—feels a bit thrown in and it’s easy to forget about him as the plot progresses.  Additionally, and this is a problem I have with a lot of films that centers on magic, is that the powers of the wizards play out as a deus ex machina during the final moments of the film.   

Ron Perlman played this guy and no make-up or special effects were used
because he really is just that good of an actor.

The wizards in New York really want to keep their existence a secret and need to pull off a Men in Black mind-wipe on a grand scale and the solution to this, as well as the amount of destruction caused during the final conflict, is handled in a pretty lazy and predictable way.  However, by this point in the film, I was already on-board for the actions in the story and the film’s reality so it wasn’t super terrible.  If you’re not all-in by the time this point comes around, nothing the ending would have done could have helped you.

You can call it "fantastic" but I'm going to call it "adorable!"
 The film also keeps the tradition of having colorful and uniquely named characters—although, I do admit that being named Newt Scamander would be pretty cool.  Additionally, the film has some very creatively designed creatures that Newt looks after and the special effects to bring them to life looks great.  Finally, the performances in this film are excellent.  Eddie Redmayne carries the movie very well, Katherine Waterston is very enjoyable as the wizard cop Porpentina and Dan Fogler does a great job at providing some comedic moments as Kowalski.  Adding to the cast, Colin Farrell is very intimidating and cool as the wizard Graves and Ezra Miller does a tremendous job at being very unsettling as the mysterious Credence Barebone.  Overall, the performances, creatures, and special effects all look great in this one.

That fool.  The only spell you need is "Swallow Slugs."

Any issues I had with this movie are minor but they all stem from the story.  For the most part, the tale of Newt’s adventure in old timey New York works to create a wondrous and whimsical journey.  However, there are some drawbacks and they come mostly in the form of the film’s central conflict and the story’s antagonists.  While the bad dude is established right away when the movie gets rolling, there is a long stretch of time where it feels like he is forgotten as we follow Newt and Kowalski on a wacky adventure to get some magical beasts that get out of Newt’s TARDIS-like suitcase.  This is only compounded as the development for the antagonist and the puppet master behind it all is presented a bit on the lackluster side and feels underdeveloped.

Hey look, it's Johnny Depp playing a character that's more about make-up, costume,
and eccentricities than it is about depth or having a half-way decent actor
taking up the role!

Did Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them turn me into a Harry Potter fan?  No, but that’s not really what the film was going for (I think…unless J.K. Rowling is secret trying to win over fans one at a time.  If that’s the case, I admire her lofty goal).  The reality is you really don’t have to be a fan at all of Harry Potter’s adventure to enjoy this one.  Aside from a few minor references to the already established universe (like mentioning muggles and Hogswarts) this film existence on its own and that’s pretty much what a spin-off has to be; its own thing with hints of where it spun-off from.  It’s a fun, whimsical adventure filled with humor and magic and it succeeds in doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

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