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Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is not only a mouthful of a title (and a book and a book within a movie), but it’s also the first of five movies. It’s also sort of a long game of Pokémon GO.

A better title may have actually been Fantastic Beasts and Where to Lose Them, as Newt Scamander (a spastic Eddie Redmayne) seems to have brought all of these beasts into 1920’s New York City, (which looks very little like New York City past or present and was actually shot in Liverpool). There he meet-cutes with the other stars of the film in a manic opening setpiece. Porpentina Goldstein (an always-welcome Katherine Waterson) is eating a hot dog and has mustard on her lip, Ezra Miller playing, surprise! a creep (his name is Credence, and not Clearwater Revival), and Dan Fogler, who seems to be acting in a different film, as No-Maj Jacob Kowalski.

You see, a No-Maj is equivalent to a Muggle, and if this term is interesting the first time, wait until the ninth. There is also a villainous Mr. Graves (Colin Farrell, sans Irish accent), and this opening scene tends to do a decent job of bringing in new fans of Harry Potter as well as keeping Potterheads entertained, but the film goes downhill from there, as actors such as Samantha Morton and Jon Voight have little to do. Singer Alison Sudol shows up as Porpentina’s sister Queenie, charmingly doing a Betty Boop impression mixed with some Rachel Weisz and Brittany Murphy, almost runs away with the entire movie.

The pairing of J.K. Rowling (writing her first screenplay) and veteran Harry Potter director David Yates actually works against the film as it has the feeling throughout of “make it to the very end” and tonally feels a little out of wack throughout (and is far too dark in its lighting). Some positives are a great score by James Newton Howard, the truly fantastic costumes of Colleen Atwood and a showcase for many great actors, including Carmen Ejogo as the American equivalent of the Minister of Magic and a proto-United Nations which seems much more apt as a result of the last few weeks.

Interestingly, though the film is set in the 1920’s, in many ways, the confrontation between the magical and the no-Majes feels more current in forging an understanding that seems like a step forward even though the film on the whole is a minor step backwards for the franchise. Hopefully the next four will start to feel a little bit more fantastic.

[star v=3]