Directly from the most imaginative, creative and fantastical minds of recent times comes “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” directed by David Yates, who also directed the last four Harry Potter films, and written by J.K. Rowling, marking her screenwriting debut.
“Fantastic Beasts” is not just our introduction to a new batch of films set in the Rowling’s Wizarding World (five, to be exact), but also our introduction to a completely different magic world other than 1990s England. With that, I welcome you to the 1920s New York magical world. Here, Muggles (people with no magical powers) are called No-Majs, where there is a Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) instead of a Ministry of Magic, and where there is a strong sense of xenophobia that makes the powerful wizard politicians cringe after a mysterious creature is causing major damage in New York City.
Everything crumbles soon after British magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) disembarks in the capital of the world. When a gold-collecting creature escapes his magical and mysterious, creature-filled briefcase, the exposure of the magic world is at stake. This happens on the backdrop of an anti-witchcraft movement led by the terrifying Mary Lou (Samantha Morton). Terrified about instigating war between wizards and No-Majs, the auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and President Seraphina Picquery of the American Magical Congress (Carmen Ejogo) seek to obliterate the magical creatures unleashed from Scamander’s briefcase without even knowing who’s causing the disturbances, therefore acting on a purely xenophobic instinct. Issues of xenophobia and supremacy resurface in this film, thus providing not only a basis for the deep-rooted magical racism we saw during the Harry Potter era of the Wizarding World, but also giving us a mirror and reflecting upon us what’s happening in our world today. Thrusting blame onto things that are foreign to us for our problems is in force nowadays.
With the help of a comical No-Maj called Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), former auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her mind-reading sister Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), Scamander fights to get his misunderstood creatures back to his briefcase safely. However, the question remains, if Newt’s fantastic beasts are not causing the damage to the big metropolis, then who or what is?
“Fantastic Beasts” also soars above and beyond in its production value. It features amazing visual effects, from which the computer-generated fantastic creatures stand out the most. Production designer Stuart Craig reprised his role in the franchise and delivered delightful feasts of set designs of New York in the 1920s and, my personal favorite set, MACUSA. The score by James Newton Howard is aloof from the previous scores but it kept enough notes and melodies from previous composers to hit our nostalgia button.
However, apart from all the excitement that entails listening Hedwig’s Theme for the first time since 2011 as the Warner Brothers logo comes closer to eat us, the film left much to be desired. It’s a film with a lot of exposition and this caused two main issues: 1) The film seemed to be all over the place in terms of action and plot points. It took so long for the film to get to its rising action and once it did, everything happened so quickly. 2) As there was more and more exposition, the plot seemed stuck for a good portion of the film. Even at the end, there were so many unanswered questions that I feel needed to be answered in this installment. For instance, what is up with that carbon copy of “Lost’s” smoke monster that is destroying the city? I am aware that there is a possibility that all my questions are going to be answered in the coming films, however, the plot hole sensor within me went off far too many times . Only the coming films can prove my fears unfounded.
Hopefully, after the dosage of exposition that was “Fantastic Beasts,” we get right into business in the next installment. I do realize that I can’t properly judge the plots that overlap between every film of the franchise without having seen all of them and how well they work holistically. I trust J.K. Rowling, obviously, and I trust David Yates, because even with the issues caused by exposition, the film still manages to keep us enticed with the world, the characters and even the creatures (the Bowtruckle is the cutest thing since baby Groot). These are world-building masters, no doubt, and they have already created memorable characters that will be part of our lives, if not for our entire lives, at least for the next 10 years until the franchise is finished. One thing is for sure, it feels so good to see someone disapparate again.