27 November 2016

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Who's up for some magic? Because today, I'm reviewing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the latest film set in the Harry Potter Universe. I went to see Fantastic Beasts last night with some friends from school, and I just had to give my two cents about it. This review is going to be completely, one hundred percent spoiler free, so if you haven't seen the movie yet, you have nothing to worry about.

Fantastic Beasts is set seventy years prior to the events in the Harry Potter books/movies, but it's not a prequel. Oh, no, this movie is doing its own thing. Aside from a few hints and references, the story in this movie has no connection to Harry Potter whatsoever. I did not have to re-watch any of the Harry Potter movies in order to enjoy Fantastic Beasts, and that is the first good thing I have to say about this movie.

In this movie we follow a young wizard by the name of Newt Scamander, played by the one and only Eddie Redmayne, who travels from London to New York with a suitcase full of fantastic beasts. He couldn't have had worse timing, though, because at the time of his arrival, New Yorkers are being attacked by some unseen deadly force, and the wizarding world is in danger of being exposed. There are conspiracies at play, people with ulterior motives, as well as a whole movement of anti-wizard fanatics who are not exactly helping. And our unfortunate hero becomes entangled in all this mess.

In the past few months I saw three movies about magic and wizards: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Doctor Strange, and Fantastic Beasts. Now, the magical premise is the only thing these three movies have in common, but because I saw them all in a relatively short period of time, they all kind of meshed together in my mind. That's why when I was watching Fantastic Beasts, there was a part of me that kept thinking, "Didn't I already see that?". But, if I am going to compare Fantastic Beasts to the other two movies simply because they all have magic in them, then this one slays them both. There's no contest. When I was leaving the theatre, I was happy. And that was when I thought about why we go to see fantasy movies. We do it because we want to see magic. Not only do we want to be entertained, but we want to be transported to another world, and feel like we are a part of that world. And, sadly, neither Peculiar Children nor Doctor Strange did that for me. But Fantastic Beasts did. This movie was an experience.

It wouldn't be fair to talk about this movie without mentioning its villains. There are a number of them, and they're all very different. And they're all very good. Especially one of them.
I don't know why, but when it comes to big sci fi and fantasy movies, villains often suffer. It seems like the writers focus all of their energy and creativity on the heroes, and when it comes to writing the baddies, they're just too exhausted. But Fantastic Beasts has one of the best villains I have seen in a movie in a long time. J. K. Rowling wrote the screenplay, so I guess that explains a lot. And this villain is not just some evil baddie, but a tragic character, someone who has suffered so much in their life that they didn't have any other choice than to go rogue. And the person who plays this character is fantastic in the role. I just felt so sorry for that person, and I wanted to give them a hug, and tell them that everything is going to be okay.

Also, the visuals and the creature design in this movie are great. But none of that would have mattered, if the movie had a weak story. And once again, I have to give credit to Rowling for writing a good story that has strong conflicts, wit and real emotions. Not only is there a well-realised conflict between the wizarding world and the muggle world, but there are some conflicts within the wizarding world as well, and sometimes it can get infected. I like that Rowling's wizarding world is plagued by politics, rigid laws, and outdated traditions. It adds an element of realism to it.

I cannot say that I had any problems with this movie, but there are a few things that could have been better. For instance, by the end of the movie there are still a few questions that need to be answered. I wouldn't call them plot holes, just details in the story that deserve a little more attention. And this movie does have something in common with the Men in Black movies. But I guess that's understandable, considering that both MIB and Fantastic Beasts involve secret organisations that hide in plain sight.

In fact, now that I think about it, there are a lot of things (and people) that are doing the good old "hiding in plain sight" trick. I don't know if Rowling did this on purpose, making it a recurring theme, but nonetheless, it's pretty clever. And did I say that this movie is clever? Because it is. I've grown so tired of exposition-heavy dialogue in movies where all the information is just dumped on you, and where the writers abandon all attempt at nuance and wit. Luckily, Rowling is not one of those writers. She actually puts clues in the movie and makes you figure things out by yourself! So refreshing.

I guess what I like the most about Fantastic Beasts is that I'm still thinking about. I'm still thinking about that tragic villain, and the cool heroes. This movie doesn't set up for an obligatory sequel. But, by the end of the movie, all the characters grow on you and you really want to see them again. Plus, since this movie doesn't drown in its own backstory, there is still so much to be explored about these characters, especially about New Scamander (by the way, Redmayne was great as this nerdy and charming wizard.)  

All in all, Fantastic Beasts is a breath of fresh air. It's entertaining and unpredictable. It has a great story, likable characters and some genuine tension. You know, the kind of tension that makes you gasp and go "oh, no!". And you don't have to be a Harry Potter fan to like Fantastic Beasts. The truth is, I like this one a lot more than the Harry Potter movies.

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