**Just a smidge worth of spoilers**
As humans, it’s second nature to make snap judgments and decisions every day. Do I want that coffee? Did I like that one dish that restaurant served me once upon a time? Should I go work out or watch tv? Unfortunately, as humans, we tend to be a tenacious lot, so once we’ve made a decision it’s hard to change our minds. We’d all like to say that we are open-minded, that we give everyone and everything a chance, but that is rarely the case once we’ve made up our minds. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the movies. Not only do we immediately make a snap decision about whether or not we are going to see a movie, usually based purely on a picture or trailer, but we also decide based on who is in it. Be honest now, who among us can really say that they haven’t looked at the cover of a movie, went “ew, he’s in that” and then promptly set it back down?
This is relevant to this particular movie review because as I’m writing this, I have already seen Fantastic Beasts twice. Usually, I can see a movie once, come away with a fairly good idea of strengths and weaknesses, and then feel comfortable writing a good, solid movie review.
Clearly, something else happened this time around.
For once, being a complete and utter Potterhead did me a disservice. If I had tried to write this review a week ago, after first seeing the movie, it would have had more negativity and general “eh” to it. I couldn’t figure out what happened. I love all things Harry Potter. I’ve read/memorized the books and movies, I’ve made a pilgrimage to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios…twice. I’ve sorted all my friends into houses and am a proud Slytherin myself. There should have been absolutely no reason for me to walk out of the movie theater saying “What just happened?”
Why didn’t I instantly fall in love with it?
The reason was simple (though it took me five days and another viewing to figure it out). I am a Potterhead. I went into the movie with preconceived notions. I went in expecting an extension of the wizarding world of Harry Potter. So my initial impressions of the movie were heavily skewed and more than slightly biased. It didn’t deliver Harry Potter, so I couldn’t understand what was happening right in front of me.
The first time around, yes, I enjoyed some aspects of the movie. The music was one of the things I loved from the first. James Newton Howard is always a good solid choice as a composer and he didn’t disappoint. The cast was phenomenal, but I couldn’t see it because my brain was still caught in a loop chanting “We’ve got Potter.” The CGI characters were definitely worth my attention but I was focused on trying to find Potter among the details. When were they going to mention Hogwarts? Why didn’t they develop the name Leta Lestrange – you can’t throw a name like Lestrange out and not develop anything! I was so focused on the little details that I missed the overall brilliance of the movie.
The second time I went to see it, I finally was able to see the movie for what it was. It really was…well…fantastic. It was charming in all the right places. The first time around, I spent most of it going “eh” because I was looking for the Golden Trio. What I got instead was a Fab Four. I’m disappointed in myself for not seeing it sooner.
Eddie Redmayne did a superb job as a wizard. The second time I watched it, I was amazed at how much heart he gave Newt Scamander. Sure, he may not know how to deal with humans, but watching him interacting and working the magical beasts in his menagerie was a treat. He was a primarily antisocial wizard thrust into an adventure that required him to deal with all kinds of people, especially the other members of the Fab Four. The equally awkward Tina, played by Katherine Waterston, was also endearing. She risked it all to help someone being abused, but even when she was working among the lowest of the low, she still had the courage to do what needed to be done. Waterston played well off of Redmayne as two very different magical people from two very different lifestyles try to work together to save Manhattan. Tagging along for the ride was perhaps the sweetest couple to ever grace the screen. Queenie, a magical Marilyn Monroe type of figure with more brains than she likes to admit, and Jacob Kowalski, the no-maj (aka muggle) who gets swept up into the chaos thanks to a charming little beastie. Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol hit it off immediately and spent the rest of the movie trying very successfully to make us fall in love with both of them for being absolutely adorable.
As with the Harry Potter stories, Fantastic Beasts has a massive cast and everyone you meet has a role to play. None more so than Mr. Graves, played by Colin Farrell. He shows up within the first two minutes of the movie and continues to be a major player long after the credits roll. If you have stayed away from the internet and big reveals, I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say, he is very important and actually very familiar. You are never quite sure of his intentions, though you suspect they are more than slightly evil, until the very end. In my mind, this is one of the hallmarks of a good villain because they become unpredictable in that respect. Ezra Miller may not have many lines, but he makes a splash as Credence Barebone. To be honest, Credence reminded me strongly of a young Tom Riddle from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Like Graves, Credence is very important to the overall plot of the movie.
As you can guess, the movie was primarily about the beasts that escape from Scamander’s magic suitcase. There were many beasts to choose from but perhaps the one that stole the show was the Niffler. A platypus type creature that lives for all things shiny, this particular Niffler was responsible for dragging Jacob Kowalski into the mix when he inadvertently ends up watching the little critter try and rob a bank. The most impressive creature would be the Thunderbird, which was Scamander’s primary reason for visiting the United States; to return it back to the wilds of Arizona.
I was surprised that the process of re-capturing the beasties did not play more of a part to the overall plot. While they did play a significant role, and were in fact blamed for more than their share, the plot featured more twists and turns than I was expecting and was more people driven rather than creature. This is a good thing, but again, not what I was expecting the first time around which only goes to show that you can’t always trust your first instincts. There are a thousand and one more details that I could discuss, but it would be easier if you just went and watched the movie. I’ll be honest. I could spend hours writing about Harry Potter.
I am more than glad I gave this movie a second chance. Otherwise I would have not been able to truly appreciate the magic and wonder that this movie actually produces. To all my other fellow Potterheads: If you haven’t given this movie a chance, you probably should. Just remember that this is not Harry Potter and we are actually years before Voldemort. Do that and you will love this movie as much as I do.
Adults: Awesome music, Awesome cast, and thoroughly magically. Grab your wands and get going!
Children: Fun creatures to watch and awesome magical battles. Not as tame as Sorcerer’s Stone, but about on par with Order of the Phoenix. You may not understand all of it, but you will be glad you saw it.