Wow... It's been a while since I have reviewed a movie. Which is mildly disappointing to me, since I have, by my count, I have seen 16 other movies in theaters this year. However, I have had a request for my thoughts on this particular film, so... here I am! Crystal, this one is for you.
Before I begin, there are a few things people should be aware of:
- I have a general distaste for the Harry Potter films (although I did find the books to be much more palatable). In general, I find the movies to be middling to fair, rarely rising above a mire of mediocrity, and more often than not, stewing in a sort of amphetamine-driven hyperactivity that is not at all conducive to proper story-telling.
- This time of the year leaves me particularly surly, and I find it hard to maintain my... "sunny" disposition.
- My plan today was actually to see two movies, Moana and Fantastic Beasts, and then to write up my thoughts on both, to be published on separate days... sadly, my distaste for the music that assaults the ears this time of year, delayed my departure, and my planned double feature was reduced to a single film.
- I'm counteracting my grumpiness at the moment with a nice sample of Mussorgsky... Because nothing cheers one up quite like 19th century Russian music, am I right?
So, I entered into this film with almost no expectations whatsoever. As I stated above, I am not particularly enamored to the Potter franchise (which is not to say I do not appreciate their appeal to many). Still, it was a movie I was more than willing to plop down a bit on, because the 1920's aesthetic was appealing. Also, I find Eddie Redmayne to be a rather enjoyable actor to watch, his work in "The Theory of Everything" earned him a lot of good will in my eyes. So, based on the lead actor, and the request of a follower on Facebook, I trudged out to the theater.
Frankly, I was rather glad I did.
The film offered up a vision of the Harry Potter universe that had character, and story that was sorely lacking in the original 8 films. Now, before you call for my head on a pike, allow me to qualify that statement.
The original films were rather hindered by a certain narrative that they had to adhere to. The books preceded the films, and precluded those films from seeking their own voice, because they were constrained by the story laid forth by the books. As such, the narrative flow of the movies often ended up jumping from point A to point C without regard for point B in between. They came off, in large part as if they were created solely for the purpose of trying to induce seizures in kids like some forgotten episode of Pokemon. This is a problem further complicated by the fact that there are a lot of potential story threads that needed to be addressed in the films. This forced the movies to jump between threads in a way that often undermined the entire experience.
I am sure there are some that will argue, that Fantastic Beasts was also inspired by a book. But, to the best of my knowledge, the book this film (and the ones that will come after) is based on, wasn't a book that really contained any sort of "narrative flow", rather it was framed as a short textbook outlining a series of magical beasts as envisioned by the character of Newt Scamander. As such, there is no predetermined path for the movie to follow, other than to allow for the continued existence of the protagonist himself.
This freedom allows the film to find its own voice, divorced from the literary constraints of the preceding films. This fact alone, combined with the acting talents of the primary cast deliver a fun, and often times funny, foray into the world envisioned by J.K. Rowling.
Eddie Redmayne infuses the character of Newt Scamander with a very relatable sort of awkwardness, that makes the character extremely likable. His bumbling-ness seems to be so very genuine, I couldn't help but see a little of myself in him. While I don't much care to see myself in anything, I do find that that made the whole experience much more personal. Add to that, the character of Kowalski, with his hatred for his job, and his belief that the job itself is killing him slowly, and you have two characters that speak to me as a person more than I think any characters ever have.
The creatures add certain levels of personality, even with their non-vocal roles, that makes them endearing characters in their own rights. My only complaint there, is that they often seemed to be out of place. That is to say, they often seemed more fake than regular CG critters, made especially obvious with Newt and Frank's interaction toward the end of the movie. Not only did Frank appear to be fake, but the way Newt touched him felt off, and not at all authentic. It led to a very abrupt disconnect with the film, at a key point in the narrative.
Also somewhat off-putting was the accents. Here, I am not talking about Newt... no, I'm talking about Queenie and Tina. These sisters, who I would assume grew up together had very different accents. A little work to match up their accents a bit would have helped to sell the familial bond.
All in all, the film was rather enjoyable, and helped to distract me for the entirety of the 133 minute run time. At no point in the film did I stop to think "Man, I could be at home playing video games, or doing something else." This was definitely one of the two best CGI-heavy, magic-based movies I have seen this month.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Do you like Harry Potter? Does that itch for a fantasy film in the back of your head still need a little scratch? Do you need a serious break from the existential nightmare that is reality? Then I think this movie is just what you need!
IS IT THEATER WORTHY: With the expansive visuals, this one plays out wonderfully on the big screen. I would highly recommend seeing it if you haven't already.
FINAL THOUGHTS: A movie set in a universe I don't particularly care for, is generally not a recipe for a good time. However, I found this film to be quite enjoyable, and the little nods to the greater film universe are rather nice, too. Overall, a good time, spoiled only by a few elements.
FINAL SCORE: 8 out of 10