I think after only a few reviews I am dropping that new format I was using to review movies. It just segments everything too much and doesn’t allow for a lot of free-form thought in the body of my writing. Ahem, anyway…
The Harry Potter franchise is beloved by MILLIONS and BAJILLIONS and QUADRILLIONS of people. Everyone loves it. Even I, hesitant steed that I am, enjoyed the few Harry Potter films that I DID end up watching (thanks, Ry-Ry). Naturally, when they announced this movie I was intrigued because it exists in the same sorta universe and the screenplay was actually written by J.K. Rowling this time. The hype train behind this film was pretty intense and after seeing that it was being fairly well-received, I thought I’d give it the ol’ college try.
One thing that you might expect is that the plot might be a bit convoluted for non-fans or non-readers of the original book to follow and I can tell you as someone who hasn’t read a single Harry Potter book or anything related to it that it is most assuredly not difficult to follow at all. We follow the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a young introverted and eccentric wizard who comes to New York City along with his creature-filled suitcase en route to Arizona so he can free one of them in a land similar to the one he’s created for them. However, along the way he loses a number of those creatures and must retrieve them among all the muggles (humans) living in the city. At the same time, there is also a number of mysterious incidents happening all over the city which is being blamed on a destructive force known as Obscuris. OK, so all of that might have sounded a bit intense but the film lays it all out in a fairly straight-forward manner.
The big question is of course regarding the quality of the film: is it good? Yes. Is it great? No… but I’d say it’s somewhere in the middle. As the start of a new franchise (yes, expect four upcoming sequels to this bad boy), it did a good job of establishing the world we are entering and the characters who inhabit it. A film like this also runs the risk of presenting too much information too fast or sometimes it can be too vague and we want more out of the introduction to the series. I will say that the film does get a bit bogged down just by the sheer amount of characters that are introduced and some of the references to the Harry Potter films feel a bit too wink-wink on-the-nose but these are not major flaws and didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the film that much.
Thanks to the strength of Eddie Redmayne’s performance and Rowling’s tight script, we don’t have a character here who is a carbon copy of Harry Potter and is allowed to be his own unique creation. Newt is a very odd and eccentric personality, which Redmayne has a knack for portraying on-screen. Joining him is Katherine Waterston, who does some strong supporting work as a former MACUSA (basically, the magic police) officer and you never get the feeling like the film is forcing some sort of love interest or chemistry between the two characters. The biggest surprise of the film is Dan Fogler. Let me tell you something about this fellow. I usually can not stand Dan Fogler. He is almost always the obnoxious buffoon in stupid comedies but here he unveiled a secret talent: he can act. He plays Newt’s muggle friend with a sincerity and also a genuine loveable quality that you can’t help but root for the guy. He is essentially our guide through this world as his various reactions to this world mirror our own. I’d say that there are a couple of weak points here with Colin Farrell and Jon Voight. I usually love me some Colin Farrell but he felt a bit under-developed here which I guess isn’t completely his fault whereas Jon Voight was a bit under-utilized.
If you’re wondering about the “beasts” themselves, they are pretty… fantastic. I’m here all week, folks. In all honesty though, despite being a film that is almost entirely CGI, the creatures are mostly wonderful creations that never really feel out of place (plus: some of them are just so gosh-darn adorable). In fact, the special effects in general are quite good and helps to give us a sense of this world. At times the effects are a bit overwhelming but again, I am just nit-picking here. The final climactic battle isn’t quite as impressive as it should be though and it kind of peters along to a close. In fact you could say that the overall film overstays its welcome a bit by the end too.
Overall though, you could do MUCH worse than the newest fantasy epic from J.K. Rowling so check it out when you get a chance! It’s thoroughly engaging, entertaining and even funny at times.
RATING: *** ½
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)