Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

November 19, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

Rebooting a very successful franchise can be a risky gamble; just look at Star Wars. Fans have incredibly high expectations. They love the world just as it is but they don’t want a retread of what they have already seen. How do you create new characters who do not look like shadows of previously beloved ones but can still find a place in this world? How do you even reenter this world in a way that feels fresh and familiar at the same time? To her credit, JK Rowling has done a fairly good job of doing exactly that. We are brought back to the world of Harry Potter, only we have been transported to 1920s America and introduced to whole new set of characters. The four main protagonists (two men and two women) are sufficiently different from Harry, Hermione and Ron, so as to not feel like cheap copies. Also, the arc of this story is utterly different from the Potter series. Much credit should be given for her ability to create such a different look into the same universe. That said, I am not sure that this one is as compelling as the original. Newt Scamander is not nearly so engaging a character as Harry Potter. He lacks the sense of destiny that was a driving force in the original books. Also, where Harry was a moral compass (righteous, brave, charismatic and unflinching in the face of destiny), Newt is timid, painfully shy and prone to tears (he reminded me more of Redmayne’s “Danish Girl” than anything else). He’s likable as a character, but only in a “hey, buck up. You’re better than you think you are” kind of way. The audience likes him because he seems vulnerable and misunderstood. He does not command attention the way Harry Potter did, nor does he seem to have the hidden potential that drove our interest in Harry. In addition, this story lacks some of the fundamental tension of the original series. There is no great rising danger that we know is coming (though we are given hints of a potential future villain). Rather, this story is more of a goofy romp around New York, full of slapstick humor and dashes of sentimentality, that may work more for other audiences than for me. The story worked best when it strayed back into darker territory, as it did with Samantha Morton (“Sweet and Lowdown,” “Minority Report”) as the anti-witch evangelist and Ezra Miller (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” and The Flash in the new DC movies) as her disturbed son, Credence Barebone. The name is classic Rowling and the character is full of pain and menace, played perfectly by Miller. We are introduced to a lot of new, silly creatures but also to one terrifying one, an obscurus. It isn’t quite as good as a dementor, but it’s pretty good. In fact, my main takeaway from this film is that, it isn’t as good as the original series yet, but it could be. This film was fun and mostly silly. If the next ones get darker, as the original series did, then I think there is real potential here.

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