PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
In 1926, wizard Newt Scamander briefly stops over in New York City en route to Arizona. He encounters Mary Lou Barebone, a No-Maj (non-magical human) and the head of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, which claims that witches and wizards are real and dangerous. As Newt listens to her speak, a Niffler escapes from his magically-expanded suitcase that houses multiple magical creatures. As he attempts to capture it, Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj cannery worker whose bank loan for a bakery was denied due to lack of collateral, mistakenly carries off Newt’s suitcase. Demoted Auror Tina Goldstein arrests Newt for being an unregistered wizard and takes him to the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) headquarters, hoping to regain her former position. However, President Seraphina Picquery and Auror Percival Graves dismiss the case. At Jacob’s tenement apartment, several creatures escape Newt’s suitcase.
Graves approaches Credence Barebone, Mary Lou’s adopted son, and offers to free him from his abusive mother in exchange for his finding the host of an Obscurus, a dark, destructive force inadvertently manifested by young magical children forced to conceal their powers. The force can be unleashed during periods of anger and stress; Graves believes that it has caused several mysterious destructive incidents around the city.
After Tina and Newt find Jacob and the suitcase, Tina takes them to her apartment and introduces them to Queenie, her Legilimens sister. Queenie and Jacob are mutually attracted, though American wizards are forbidden to marry No-Majs or interact with them. Newt takes Jacob inside his magically-expanded suitcase, where Jacob encounters a contained Obscurus that Newt had extracted from a girl in the past. Newt persuades Jacob to help search for the missing creatures. After re-capturing the Niffler and an Erumpent, they re-enter the suitcase, which Tina takes to MACUSA. Officials arrest them, believing Newt’s Obscurus to be responsible for killing Senator Henry Shaw Jr., and decide to destroy Newt’s suitcase and obliviate Jacob’s memory. Graves interrogates Newt and Tina and accuses Newt of conspiring with the infamous dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. Newt and Tina are immediately sentenced to death, but they escape and meet up with Queenie and Jacob; the foursome then capture the last of the creatures after receiving a tip from the goblin gangster Gnarlack.
Credence finds a wand under his adopted sister Modesty’s bed. Mary Lou assumes the wand is Credence’s, but Modesty claims it is hers. When she is about to be punished, the Obscurus is unleashed, killing everyone except Modesty and Credence. Graves arrives and dismisses Credence as being a Squib (a non-magical person of wizard ancestry), and refuses to tutor him in magic after they arrive in Modesty’s biological family’s home. Credence then reveals himself as the host of the Obscurus, the real cause of Shaw’s death, and it unleashes upon the city in a rage.
In a subway tunnel, Newt talks to Credence but is attacked by Graves. Tina, who knows Credence, arrives and attempts to calm him, while Graves tries to convince Credence to listen to him instead. As Credence begins to settle into human form, Picquery arrives with Aurors and decides Credence’s life must be forfeited to keep magic hidden. The Aurors apparently disintegrate him, but Newt notices a tiny Obscurus shred fleeing. Graves admits to unleashing the Obscurus to expose the magical community to the No-Majs, and angrily claims that MACUSA protects the No-Majs more than themselves. He is subdued and taken into custody after Newt reveals him to be Grindelwald in disguise.
MACUSA fears it is too late to protect their secret world, but Newt releases his Thunderbird to disperse a potion over the city via a downpour that will erase all New Yorkers’ recent memories. MACUSA wizards repair the destruction, and Jacob reluctantly agrees to let himself be obliviated as well. Queenie kisses Jacob goodbye as the rain erases his memories. Newt departs for Europe, but promises to return and visit Tina once he finishes his book; he also anonymously leaves Jacob a case of Occamy eggshells (made of silver), allowing Jacob to fulfill his dream of opening his own bakery. His breads and pastries are unknowingly inspired by Newt’s creatures, and a visit by Queenie seems to spark his erased memories.
When the final credits finished rolling on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt II, many of us thought it would be the last time we would see that world on film. That is until late last year when mysterious teasers for this film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, started popping up. Being a prequel and a spinoff of one of the most beloved and successful franchises of all time, there are big shoes to be filled. Can this flick pull it off?
What is this about?
The year is 1926 and Newt Scamander has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident…were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.
What did I like?
Beastly. I was so scared going into this that the beasts were going to be used sparingly, while we are forced to sit through some bureaucratic drama and half-assed action. Words cannot describe my relief when I saw the beasts used for the whole film, much like magic in the Harry Potter films. It just wouldn’t have been right to have a film about these creatures and we barely see them. As it were, we get plenty of scenes with them all, and even get to know a few.
Uncultured swine. Watch any movie or tv show set in New York or Chicago back in 20-early 40s, and you will find the greasy fat guy with a thick accent who may or may not be on the level. Dan Fogler brings this old school vibe to his character of Jacob, who also brings to mind Fred Flintstone. He is most definitely the comic relief, but there is also some depth to the character that we see as the film comes to a close. Hopefully, this will not be the last we see of the guy.
Stand on your own two feet. As this is set 70 years before Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, it would be hard to show things that haven’t happened yet. However, as we’ve seen with prequel shows like Gotham, the powers that be will still force something that hasn’t happened yet (as in criminals that are Batman foes appearing while Bruce Wayne is still a kid). The only callback (or call forward) is a discussion about Hogwarts, the Ministry, etc. Basically, this film is able to stand on its own, without relying on easter eggs. For that, it deserves major kudos!
What didn’t I like?
Take the lead. I don’t know what it is, but Eddie Redmayne just doesn’t cut it as a leading man. I realize that as I type that, I forgot that he was nominated for an Oscar this past year. Still, he guy doesn’t scream leading man, at least to me. He doesn’t command the audience pay attention to him, but rather just ambles on through the film. The only time we give him any kind of though is when he is describing the beasts.
Bitter old man. Jon Voight seems to be nothing more than a grumpy old man these days. No wonder his daughter, Angelina Jolie, doesn’t talk to him. To be honest, he was such a non character in this film, it makes one wonder why he was cast. I half believe he was meant to be something more, but those scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.
Cloudy, with a chance of destruction. I guess the filmmakers didn’t learn anything from Fantastic Four and Green Lantern. Both of those films used cloudy, destructive masses as the antagonist. This film does something similar, using a cloudy mass as the Obscurus. As this big cloud went through the city, destroying everything in its wake, it was hard to see what was going on. This is in stark contrast to watching the creatures that had escaped. I guess I was wishing they had put more thought into the design of this thing, rather than cop out and just make it a big cloud.
Final thoughts on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? This spinoff from the Potter world lives up to its predecessor. The tone of the film shifts seamlessly from jovial and light hearted to dark and sinister and back. The action scenes are great and the music is reminiscent of John Williams’ great score. I am anxiously looking forward to more films in this budding franchise. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly! This is one of those films that everyone can enjoy! Stop reading and run and go see it!!!
4 1/2 out of 5 stars