By Sehen Gamhewa, Comic Hub Editor
I think we’ve all lost count of the number of times we’ve seen the Big Apple get trashed in movies. I don’t really know, but it’s become almost some sort of blockbuster tradition to do so, or maybe, it’s literally a block-buster, as in busting New York’s blocks. (Does that even make sense?)
But either way, just when you think you’ve seen every imaginable version of building-toppling chaos, there comes along Fantastic Beasts, with all its mutated hippopotamus-elephant-rhino thingies and thunderbirds, and little, mischievous, rodent-like whatchamacallits, and a ton of other “fantastic” beasts who cause more chaos than ten times their combined weight—and that’s a lot. (Have you ever weighed a hippo?)
In fact, here is a little side note by critics which I wholeheartedly agree with:
Fantastic Beasts annihilated the 1926 NY as well as Avengers did the 2012 version.
The movie starts off like this: “Anything edible in there?”
The question is directed towards a completely befuddled British arrival, with a shock of red hair, half his head lost in the clouds, who goes by the name of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) by a 1926 NYC customs official.
And to be honest, there is nothing in that suitcase that I imagine anyone would want to eat.
Let’s start off by listing a few contents of said suitcase:
- 1 x Nifler (a platypusial creature with a fondness for snatching shiny objects)
- 1 x Erumpent (rhino-elephant-hippopotamus-like creature when it comes to size and temperament and, inconveniently, in heat)
- 7 x Occamy (or more) (winged serpents with an aptitude for size-shifting)
- 1 x Demiguise (a simian, blessed with powers of invisibility and precognition)
- 7 x Bowtruckle (or more) (little, living, walking tree branches)
- 1 x Thunderbird (pretty much what it sounds like, only much, much larger)
- And plenty more troublesome “little” critters.
I have a feeling that whoever thought about stealing the suitcase and finding a ton of valuables suddenly changed his/her mind and decided to go for something less “exotic.”
Newt’s mission is to compile a textbook of magical creatures by cataloging and compiling various fauna. Or as he himself describes it, “Rescue, nurture, and protect them. And gently try to educate my fellow wizards about them.” He’s pretty much the perfect mash-up of Dr. Doolittle and Harry Potter.
Alas, shortly after his arrival stateside, Newt mixes up his suitcase with that of a No-Maj—this is the American term for “muggle” —named Kowalski (Dan Fogler), an amiable cannery worker who aspires to open a bakery.
Inevitably, several of the creatures escape and begin causing minor mischief in Manhattan. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only creatures afoot/a-claw/a-wing causing mayhem in the city. Something darker is stirring, and soon, everything becomes much grimmer for everyone.
And so Newt is given the “impossible” task of restoring the missing beasts to his luggage—which, like Dr. Who’s TARDIS, is a lot larger on the inside than it is on the outside—while also persuading everyone that he is not the would-be war-stoker. He is aided by the unlikeliest trio you’ll ever imagine (probably): the No-Maj Kowalski, Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a sympathetic investigator for the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), and her kind but flighty Leglimens sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol).
As usual, the movie develops into a whole whirlwind of chaos, which is natural when you let your suitcase full of naughty little (and very, very big) magical creatures escape. And of course, there is the darker subplot that suddenly mixes in with everything and makes everything way worse than it should be.
The movie was made well, the creatures were pretty good, and there was a very subtle magical air to the movie. However, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them doesn’t have the kind of charm the original Harry Potter films had. It lacks a strong central character(s) and the charisma that comes along with him/her/them. The rest of the details in the movie are excellent. The creatures, the magic, the society are amazing, but these were always meant to be the garnish, not the actual course.
Another fault of the movie is the fact that it is almost four hours of content squeezed into two. It was the same with the original Potter series, but the books were always there for anyone to dive deeper into. Here, however, there are numerous elements that could use more development and could have actually made the movie better: the plight of the wretched children enlisted into the Second Salemers by the group’s fanatical leader (a sorely underutilized Samantha Morton), a paper-thin storyline involving a newspaper magnate (Jon Voight) and his two sons, an uncertain relationship between Newt and Tina, and a charming but slight romantic subplot between Kowalski and Queenie.
But even if the characters are somewhat underdeveloped, the cast does what it can to bring them to life. Redmayne is excellent as the committed but awkward magizoologist Newt, his eyes shying away from direct contact whenever possible. Fogler is lovably clunky as Kowalski, and singer-songwriter Sudol is an unexpectedly charismatic presence as Queenie. Among the principal quartet, only Waterston’s Tina fails to make a deep impression, and this is a consequence more of the script than of her performance.
But never fear. There is enough time ahead (and probably plenty more) to get to know these characters, to learn about the other subplots, to delve deeper into them, and maybe, just maybe, to discover whether Queenie and Kowalski have romance in their future.