Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) comes to New York in 1926. He has a suitcase full of creatures that he is sure won’t hurt anyone. He runs into Non-Maj Jacob Kowalski, (Dan Fogler) who works in a cannery, but dreams of being a baker. Jacob has a suitcase full of baked goods. They accidentally switch suitcases, which gets Newt in trouble demoted wizard investigator, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) who accuses Newt of being an unregistered wizard, and takes the case to the Magical Congress of the USA, who dismisses the case, despite widespread accounts of property damage. But then, without warning, a Senator, Langdon Shaw (Ronan Raftery) dies, and Newt’s animals are still on the loose. Are Newt’s animals responsible for the Senator’s death or is something else at work? Will the Senator’s death result in a war between humans and wizards in America?
Fantastic Beasts is a good movie, but it takes a long time to bring its disparate storylines together. It tries to be a comedy with Jacob Kowalski being the comedy relief, it tries to be a romance, and to be a social commentary with dialogue about the anti-wizarding laws present in America at the time, which could draw parallels from anything to the Salem Witch Trials to McCarthyism, to the Holocaust, to anti-gay or religiously restrictive laws that may come in the US. The oblique references to darker issues were not the problem. The real problem is that ithe script spends too much time on the beasts, which at times are treated as rescue animals or worse, characters from Pokemon Go. The story picks up with the death of the Senator, and maintains the interest throughout. JK Rowling wants to make the story an epic, with plenty of characters and therefore has to do a lot of exposition, but she would have been better served making the story more focused and cutting the superfluous story elements. Fantastic Beasts is not as good as Harry Potter, but is different enough to be interesting and can stand on its own.
The acting is superb. Eddie Redmayne gives Newt a playful nature, in keeping with the lightness of the script. Redmayne implies with each sly smile that he is a wizard, but that shy charm may be his most powerful spell. Katherine Waterston gives a serious, subtle, grounded performance. Tina does not seem to be overwhelmed by the circumstances surrounding her. The relationship between Tina and Newt, if there is one is very subtle. Dan Fogler was welcome comic relief, it was nice to see Rowling’s adult characters have some fun for a change. Allison Sudol adds an ethereal touch to Queenie, Tina’s sister, and Jacob’s love interest, as if she might be too good to be true. Adding some shades of gray to his performance, Colin Farrell commands attention as Graves, the senior wizard investigator. Despite his short time on the screen, he finds ways to make his character interesting in different ways. He deserved a bigger role.
The direction isn’t bad, the pacing drags at times, but that could be from the sheer number of characters and plotlines that need to be introduced The special effects were well integrated into the story, and therefore didn’t seem to take over. The performances were very good, but is that the director’s doing or the actors playing them? I don’t know. Colin Farrell is a very good actor, and Eddie Redmayne, even at a young age, has proven himself a huge talent. David Yates, the director has directed four Potter movies, so he knows what this kind of story entails.
Fantastic Beasts: Beast not afraid, there’s four more movies to come.