Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts
Written by J.K. Rowling
Directed by David Yates
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Jenn Murray, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight and Ron Perlman
In Cinemas November 18th, 2016
Watch on iTunes or Amazon

by Joanna Orland

While Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set in the Potterverse before Harry and his friends, it is a much darker, more mature film for J.K. Rowling.  It is a stunning visual feast with a familiar yet new story about the wizards and muggles of this universe, with wonderful characters and brilliant supporting performances. It also uncannily touches upon many themes and parallels which we are experiencing today in this new Trumpian / Brexit world.  It is hands down the best mainstream film of 2016, and potentially the best of the Potterverse films to date – with the exception of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the only Harry Potter film with a distinctly original tone and style.

One of the main beauties of Fantastic Beasts is that it can be enjoyed as either a standalone story, or as complementary to the wider Potterverse and narrative. And while it is setting up 5 films in its own series, the story feels complete enough to stand solely and satisfyingly on its own.  By setting the film in the past, it somehow feels more socially relevant than Rowling’s other works – the start of the Great Depression with minority persecutions, on the brink of war, and the power of the media all explored in the subtext of this film, while magical wizard Newt Scamander (Redmayne) sets off the narrative events in the foreground.

In spite of an awkward performance by Eddie Redmayne, who took Scamander’s social awkwardness too far in that he doesn’t even make eye contact with his co-stars, nevermind the camera – this film still thrives.  It is difficult to have him lead this narrative through his mumbling and social avoidance, he feels almost disassociated from his entire performance.  Katherine Waterston as the female lead Porpentina isn’t much stronger as the two of them compete to be the most incoherent and flat character in this film.  On the other end of the spectrum, there is Dan Fogler as the non-maj (muggle) Jacob Kowalski, who just about single-handedly carries this film providing the heart and humour.  Alison Sudol as Porpentina’s sister Queenie also radiates on screen, with amazing chemistry emanating between her and Fogler.  They are pure joy to watch together on screen.

Colin Farrell as the dubious Auror Percival, a law enforcement agent for the Magical Congress of the United States of America, is also excellent.  He doesn’t carry the weight of some previous Potter villains and antagonists, but he is as charming as ever.  Then there is Ezra Miller and Samantha Morton as Credence and Mary Lou, the son and mother combination that makes each and every one of your families seem normal.  These two actors are mesmerizing in everything that they do, and this is a great role for Miller who perfectly balances naive innocent vulnerability with dark and disturbing villainy.

By setting Fantastic Beasts in the real world rather than in Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling holds a mirror up to society in a way her younger characters could never fully realize.  It is a magical metaphor for today’s culture, which is also somewhat mirroring the late 1920’s era when the film is set.  This film subconsciously heeds a warning for us, but on the flip side also manages to act as wonderful escapism from today’s problems.  The subtext is there for those who want to see it, but on the surface, Fantastic Beasts is just the most human blockbuster of the year.

A spectacle, a story, a wonderful experience – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the film we need right now.

 

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