After faltering with its DC properties this year with Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, Warner Bros. can rejoice in Fantastic Beasts which gives a fantastic start to a new franchise
What Star Wars has been to the kids of the 70’s & 80’s generation in US, Harry Potter has been for the kids who grew up during the 00’s. Every time a new book was released or a new movie was released, kids with their parents would queue up to get the tickets outside the cinema halls. And no one understands this world better than J.K Rowling, who has created a world rivaled only by the likes of George Lucas. Hence when Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara announced that there is going to be Harry Potter spin-off movie based on the book written by Rowling herself under the pseudonym Newt Scamander, fans were excited and it is sufficing to say that Rowling in her screenwriting debut doesn’t disappoint, even often uses it as her personal commentary on social issues such as fear, violence, animal endangerment. Same can be said about David Yates who directed the last four (and also the most critically acclaimed ones) Harry Potter movies, who knows this universe in & out.
The movie starts with a montage of newspaper clips where series main bad guy Gellert Grindelwald is teased. The series protagonist a socially awkward magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in the prohibition era New York with a bottom less briefcase. The briefcase contains an entire world of magical creatures, ranging from a cute, platypus like creature Niffler who is attracted to all things shiny to a shape shifting snake like creature. Newt accidentally swaps his briefcase with a wannabe baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a No-Maj (Muggles in America), which releases a set of creatures and in turn wreaks havoc in the New York city. Newt’s magical abilities are spied upon by an ex-auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who immediately arrest Newt and takes her to the Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) the president of MACUSA, who pays no attention to Tina.
Meanwhile, an Anti-Witch organization run by Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) is trying to get people on board against the possibility of existence of witches. Mary Lou’s children are weird ones here, who’s youngest daughter Modesty sings creepy songs involving witches and her eldest son Credence (Ezra Miller) shows signs of discomfort and is often at the receiving end of her mother’s abuses.
Unknown to her mother Credence is secretly meeting with shady Auror Percival Graves (Colin Ferrell), who has agenda of his own. Miller and Ferrell are pretty good actors, but scenes involving them are pretty boring here and doesn’t lift the movie.
What ensues and how these characters come together to save No-Majs and Wizards from the destructive creature Obscurus is the story of this whole film
The best part of the movie are the ones involving the beasts themselves, whether it is crazy, cute Niffler, who’s thievery provides the best comical moments to the golden thunderbird which provides the most magical moments of the movie. The scene where Newt introduces us and Jacob to the world of Magical creatures is one of the most beautiful ones.
Apart from the beasts themselves, the supporting cast including Fogler, Waterstone and Alison Sudol who plays Queenie a good hearted girl with ability to read minds. Fogler specially shines because he is also at the emotional core of the movie and he is, like the audience, experiencing the world of these magical creatures for the first time.
The major problem I found with Eddie Redmayne’s character is that he is not really likable, a fact that his character acknowledges in one of the scenes when he says “I annoy people”, which was not the case with Harry Potter who was instantly likable. Eddie Redmayne and JK Rowling has to turn the character of Newt into a likable one in order to sell the future installments which are going to span a period of 19 years. But that does not mean Eddie Redmayne is bad here. He is somewhat doing what he is asked to do, play a socially awkward character. But the tilted head sometimes gets you.
All in all, Fantastic beasts starts the franchise on a right note with enough call backs to the Harry Potter universe which fans will like, at the same time separating itself to establish a new property.