Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Being possibly the only person who’s not into the Harry Potter hype, I suppose that my opinions here would come with a bit more objectivity than most people. Don’t get me wrong; I like the Harry Potter books, and a few of the movies were okay (Potterheads, please don’t lynch me), but I was generally ambivalent towards the Harry Potter franchise. Hence, I was slightly interested in this movie only because I happen to be working on a magic-themed story at the moment. I have to say that the result was… somewhat disappointing.

The story is based on J.K. Rowling’s book of the same title. I have not read the book (it’s more of an encyclopedia anyway), but the movie is about the adventures of Newt Scarmander (Eddie Redmayne), who accidentally let some dangerous beasts he carried in a briefcase loose in New York City. Along with a suspended American Auror by the name of Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a muggle who was dragged into the quest by accident, they had to find the culprit behind a series of attacks on the city.

I believe that while the premise of the story was interesting enough, the problem lies in a story cobbled together seemingly on the fly. There were plenty of plotholes and convenient deus ex machina (I will probably make another post about the problems I have with the story), and the nifty special effects can’t save the film. The movie works well as a mode of escapism, but once you start trying to apply logic to it, the plot crumbles.

Scarmander himself was another problem. Compared to his companions, he seemed to have little personality. He seemed shy and quirky, and more at ease with the beasts under his care, but besides that, he was barely relatable to the audience compared to the more complex characters he surrounded himself with. For example, he did not seem very passionate about the beasts (no big smile on his face or an awe at the majesty of his creature). One could argue that all these beasts are already well known to him, so there was little for him to be excited about, but I beg to disagree. Kowalski was a good baker, but the look on his face when he was presented with a beautiful strudel told us the depth of his passion.

This leads me to an important point: Kowalski was the highlight of the movie for me. In the first few scenes with him, I was already rooting for this guy. He was an ordinary man (just like us), stuck in a soul-crushing job (utterly relatable) and he wanted to pursue his dream (ditto!) to set up a bakery. Unfortunately, his loan was denied because he had nothing to offer as collateral for the bank loan, so his application was promptly rejected (some of us would know how that feels). By the time all this was presented to us, Scarmander was still miles behind in terms of character development. And oh, he also has some of the best lines.

Tina and Queenie were interesting roles as well. Alison Sudol was captivating as Queenie, who turned out to be very competent, and kudos to her for using her seductive front to her advantage. Katherine Waterston did her job well enough to get us on the side of Tina, who was torn between duty and doing the right thing. *Spoiler alert* Is no one going to address the fact that she went on a one-to-one duel with Grindelwald and survived? Or that MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) ordered her to be executed without investigating how she got involved with Scarmander? *End of spoiler alert*

Of course, in the end you can have a decent film despite plot holes and a main character who is relatively bland compared to the side characters, but that movie will just remain that way: decent. But then again, the last few Harry Potter movies have been just that, and Fantastic Beasts may be content to just follow their footsteps.

 

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