Going back to a finished franchise-slash-cinematic universe always is a risky business. On the one hand, you have an already established universe you could expand on with a huge chance of financial success. On the other hand, you risk ruining said world and by extension, people’s positive perception about it.
There’s also the risk of angering-fans, but I’d rather not delve on that. So the question is, does WB and J.K. Rowling’s decision to start a series of unrelated prequel – set in distant past, no less – to Harry Potter works?
In the year of 1926, magical zoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrived in America to get himself a birthday present. But nothing is ever that easy when you’re carrying a case filled with a wondrous array of magical creatures.
Even more so when some of them got loose and he got dragged into international affairs with Porpentina Goldstein… (Katherine Waterston)
To answer that question I posed in the beginning of this post, yes. This foray back into Pottermore Universe does works. Not fantastically, or wonderfully, but it does works. Mostly because of Eddie Redmayne. Whom really is an adorable ball of fluffy sunshine. And yes I know it sounds more like a stray observation, but I think it’s apt to start this observation with him. After all, he really did hard carry the movie. Sure David Yates armed this movie with beautiful aesthetics and simple story-line with surprising numbers of aces up his sleeves. However, the lack of distinctive characters kind of negated it.
For reasons I’m not sure of, Newt Scamander is the only well written character in this movie. Maybe it’s because this is J.K. Rowling’s first attempt at writing movie screenplay, or maybe it’s because this is set to be a Newt Scamander-centric series – probably with different settings and background characters in each movie. Either way, everyone else seems like they were set to be just filler characters. Archetypal and predictable, even the big bad feels just like one of your villain of the week roster. And what a waste of good casts, that is. You’re wasting Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller. Ezra. Miller. Come on, this is more than me being annoyed because that damned bowl cut ruined Ezra’s otherwise pretty face, but Rowling and Yates placing him in a character that is so obviously set to be a plot device broke my heart.
And there you have my main gripes with this movie. How almost all characters on screen could be fitted into a category I’ve seen before. Katherine Waterston’s Tina is that “strong” underrated female character who was in a trouble and got into further trouble with our main guy, only to together overcome it all and finally be appreciated for what she worth. Yes, I’m especially peeved by how she probably wouldn’t get that appreciation if not for Newt’s help, but I’ll decline from ranting further on that. Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski is so obviously the comic relief and sidekick it hurts. Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves is that creepy questionable guy you know you should keep an eye on. Even Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is that bumbling main male lead whom you can’t help but to adore and want to protect. The only exception to this theme is Alison Sudol’s Queenie Goldstein, and that’s because she’s a subversion of the dumb blonde tropes. Though her character does come across as far more progressive than Tina. Which makes her the only one who actually left an impression on me. Because Alison Sudol played a huge part in bringing Queenie to life, making her both seductive and cheerful while hiding some depth and steel. You know, just my type.
For the most part, everyone else were sadly just passing through. They all did their best and performed up to par, but there’s only so much emotions and attitude to fleshed out when they’re playing run of the mill characters. Credence Barebone reduced Ezra Miller’s range of emotions into tortured angst and nothing else. Colin Farrell had a permanent creased forehead and a wham monologue that sadly didn’t felt all too majestic, though he did managed to turn the creepiness and asshole-ish a notch. Katherine Waterston, to be fair, played it subtle without ever actually losing the timidness and lack of confidence that seems to always shadow Tina. But my personal distaste again her type of vanilla character made it really hard to enjoyed her character as a whole. Dan Fogler was adorably confused all the time, all heart with little brain, but that’s why his Kowalski is appealing. Even if the banality in which his character was written made me sigh. And yet Fantastic Beast brought about something I don’t get often: a bumbling goody two shoes whom I became emotionally invested to. Really, Eddie Redmayne shine through with the way he carried this movie, bringing life to Newt Scamander and making him someone you’d like to take a walk in the park with. But personally, I think his biggest feat is how he made me, a Slyhterin, fall for a Hufflepuff. And I’m fairly sure I’m not the only one.
True to its name, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was blessed with fantastically pleasing aesthetic and wonderfully diverse magical creatures -the majestic and the creepy, the adorable and the odious, they’re all there. With a caretaker that’s really adoptable to boot. In the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m once again stating that this movie wouldn’t work without Eddie Redmayne. Thanks to him, I’m enjoying this adventurous period drama set in 1920s, with doses of familiar magic sprinkled here and there. A simple but warm story-line that managed to entertain and even surprises at time. Not to mention the subtle political jibes! It still got a long way to go, especially in term of characters, but it is a solid opening for a new franchise. A nice expansion pack to the Pottermore Universe that got me wanting to know Newt Scamander more.
Director: David Yates. Writer: J.K. Rowling. Released on: 16 December 2016. Casts: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller.