NEWBIES: If this is your first trip here (welcome!), here’s the QT on what these reviews are. THIS WEEK: The Potterverse returns, this time with Brit Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) travelling to 1920s NYC with an attache case full of (what else?) fantastic beasts that get loosed upon the city thanks to wanna-be-baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogel). The glitch? Magic beasts are not allowed in America and magic’s US governing body’s agent, Tina Goldstein (Samantha Morton), is after both of them. Hijinks and wand-pointing ensue.
Written by J.K. Rowling. Directed by (four-Potter-movie veteran) David Yeates.
Yes, the monsters were as cool, cute, impressive and wild as you’d expect, but for me it was the recreation (and occasional destruction) of 1920s New York City. Everything looked so real, like it was shot on location with a time machine. And little stuff like bricks falling out of walls, cars flipping over, cracks in cement and the like, were just ultra-real and believable. (The costumes helped a lot too.) That really puts you into the film and makes it come alive.
Good casting. Eddie Redmayne took some getting used to (few-words type, “low-talker” with thick accent so some lines were hard to understand) but won me over. Favorites were Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler from the hilarious The Goldbergs) and Tina’s cute-hot ginger sister Queenie (Alison Sodol), along with an “elfed-up” Ron Pearlman as a fanged bar creep named Gnarlak. Plus Colin Farrell is his usual badass self, though restrained from being the unhinged psycho he usually portrays.
The spectacle scenes were definitely spectacular and worthy of the Potter franchise. Lots of bigger-than-life and larger-than-logic scenarios. And the bar scene is almost a magical version of the Star Wars Cantina.
The 3D and Dolby Atmos sound actually enhanced the experience in a noticeable way. (MIKE: You can still enjoy it without, obviously, but if you do spend the dough you won’t be disappointed; they add another level of immersion.)
Great effects, especially the teleportation—way faster and visually cooler than Star Trek’s transporters.
The newspaper scans/shots in the opening were probably the best I’ve ever seen. Just wish I had a “pause” button to read them all.
Terminology and names: I liked that “muggles” have a different name in the US (“no-mags”). Characters referred to The Magical Congress of the United States of America only by the acronym MACUSA, a giggle-inducing combination of “magic” and “Yakusa” (Japanese Mafia). “Newt Scamander” sounds like a cross between “Salamander” and “Scaramanga” from James Bond (Live And Let Die); the weirdo teenager with the Moe Howard-ish haircut (Ezra Miller) is named Creedence like the band CCR. And of course, Kowalski was the name of the protagonist from the greatest classic car flick, Vanishing Point.
A few obvious winks/Easter eggs to the previous “Potterverse” though I’m sure Harry-heads will find a lot more. Doctor Who fans will immediately note that Newt’s valise is a lot “bigger on the inside.”
Overall, a decent mix of suspense, action and humor (mostly provided by Fogel), with a sweet sprinkle of romance.
The story got a bit convoluted and confusing at times, and the first half hour is pretty slow.
Suspension of disbelief is easier with magic, but there’s still logic issues. Mainly with the wands—why does it work on some creatures and not others? We’re never told. When one creature escapes, it can be zapped to freeze, while others are treated like earth animals that have to be trapped. Why do some wizards use wands and others don’t?
Rowling is a better writer with descriptions and emotions (from what readers tell me—yer pal Bru don’t read nothin’ without pictures!) than dialog. A lot of it seemed flat/uninspired and some characters’ language was very general—too many “stock lines” you’ve heard in too many other films. Also, several scenes demanded more dialog, where you’d expect questions to be asked/answered; and missed chances for character development.
Key example: Tina tries to tell a superior about Newt’s case but gets kicked out of the office before she gets the chance. Next day, she goes back and succeeds, and the superior asks why she waited a day to say anything. Yet Tina never mentions that she already tried!
The US magic president acts like a female dog if you know what I mean. Authority figures are just jerks, whether magic or muggle, male or female.
Not a single button after the end credits or even main credits.
Potter fans will definitely BUY IT for the franchise collections (not to mention extras that are sure to be included), but they and other no-mags should at least see it on the huge screen. There’s enough spectacular spectacle and subtle detail unavailable on most home TVs to make it worthwhile. Plenty enough to continue the franchise; while there’s no mention or intention to do so, I hope J.K. considers it, at least if they use this one as a benchmark. She just needs to trust some other screenwriters like she did with Harry. Enjoyus Movieus!
P.S.: How about some hand-drawn magic by Pascale for your art collection? All kinds of fantastic beasties as well as heroes, babes, badguys, your family, pets, cars, whoever and whatever. Just ask Craig here!
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of Wednesday’s Heroes, Mike Pascale, the MACUSA, the Yakusa, the overall magic community, muggles, Wuggles, The Wiggles, no-mags, Cro-Mags, car mags, fantastic beasts, fantasy feasts and mating rhinos as big as buildings. Bru would like to meet a magical babe to show his not-too-fantastic beast to…without laughing!