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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

Seven decades before Harry Potter, a sole wizard travelled to New York with a suitcase full of fantastic beasts and changed the wizarding community for the better.

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Genre: Comedy/Fantasy/Mystery

Director: David Yates

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Carmen Ejogo, Ronan Raftery, Josh Cowdery, Jon Voight, & Ron Perlman.

Run Time: 133 min.

US Release: 18 November 2016

UK Release: 18 November 2016

German Release: 17 November 2016

I need to be honest here; I did not expect this movie to cause that much mayhem in Germany! Cinemas are still booked out for days and I was lucky to get in yesterday eve. It was well worth the wait, though, because I enjoyed every minute of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and left the screening room with a big smile on my face. While this fantasy hit plays in the same universe as Harry Potter, it feels very different and can be watched as a standalone picture; something I thought to be a positive because it doesn't need to rely on big names and scenes that tie it to the Potter franchise. It isn’t a flawless movie, however, and I had a few nitpicks here and there.

The Harry Potter franchise was a big part of my childhood and adolescence. I read all the books in English and German, watched the movies and grew up together with these characters. I bought the official eighth title Harry Potter and the Cursed Child when it came out this year and read it in one sitting. So I was naturally pumped to see this film in cinemas.

In 1926 the wizard community is on edge due to the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald escaping custody in Europe. While mean Newt Scamander (Redmayne), a wizard studying and protecting magical beasts, arrives in New York to set free one of his creatures but accidentally switches his suitcase with that of muggle Jacob Kowalski (Fogler). Kowalski releases all beasts when opening up the luggage and a race ensues, in which Scamander is trying to catch his creatures before Auror Percival Graves (Farrell) gets to them first.

This is J.K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut, proving that she is able to not only write a captivating novel but also a great film script. Fantastic Beasts felt like a natural extension to the Harry Potter novels for those that grew up with them, as it contains a mature and pretty dark storyline for the once younger audience of the magical series. At the same time, it is an original tale that took place 70 years prior to the tragedy that befell Harry and gives the viewers a different part of the wizarding world to explore. It also contains a soft-spoken message about animal treatment and preservation, which suited the film well.

The story is not without flaws though. For instance, I believe that some of the magical aspects are depicted a little bit uncreative and cold; such as the word “No-Maj” for nonmagical humans or the entrance to the department of magic, separating it from the real world. The way the movie ended, with Newt asking his thunderbird to help with a specific potion, was also resolved a little too convenient. Other than that I adored the narrative!

This is the perfect role for Eddie Redmayne, who knows exactly how to play introverted and insecure characters, a characteristic that fits Newt Scamander's personality to the point. He has no real friends, annoys people around him, and yet he is a really likeable character, who through his loneliness found friendship in the creatures he tries to understand and protect from the wizarding world. Redmayne did a fantastic job portraying Scamander, even though at times it was a little hard to understand his mumbling.

Dan Fogler plays Jacob Kowalski, a muggle that stumbles by accident upon the wizarding world of NY. He is used as the exposition-dump character, to explain specific things to the audience but it was handled really well. He is also used as comedic relief, but Fogler didn’t play it too silly to harm his presence on screen. Most surprisingly, though, is the fact that Kowalski is the emotional anchor of this film and it does make sense, since it is through him the audience gets a peek into the wizarding world of New York.

Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol portray the sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein, two witches working for the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA). Both try to help Newt find his creatures and get into peril for it. I love Waterston as Tina, she is a strong female character who never gives up. Alison Sudol, on the other hand, tries to mimic Marilyn Monroe a little too much for my taste, but she is nonetheless a sweet addition to the cast.

I can’t say much about Colin Farrell, as MACUSA agent Percival Graves, or about Ezra Miller, who depicts the abused child of an anti-magic fanatic, played by a wonderful Samantha Morton, without spoiling a big chunk of the film. Be assured though that both of them fitted in perfectly and gave extraordinary performances!

This is a beautifully constructed fantasy epos with jaw-dropping effects and panoramic scenes, copying 1920’s New York in a very original way. The cinematographic style that is used, together with the good costume design and choice of sets, replicate that era perfectly and give it a hint of the magical world that J.K. Rowling dreamed up. I am also very fond of some of the beasts designs, especially that of the Bowtruckle, and the gloomy cold colour palette that nuance the darker moments of the plot.

Sadly the effects don’t always hold up throughout the movie’s length, especially when it comes to the magical creatures. While some of them look good, there are others that feel rather weak, such as Newt’s Thunderbird. What makes Harry Potter so beautiful to look at, is the balanced mix of prosthetics and computer imagery. Fantastic Beasts, though, relies heavily on CGI and that disappoints a little.

James Newton Howard manages to replicate John Williams's musical touch to the wizarding world perfectly but at the same time, he gave the score his own little input. The melodies compliment the story well and gave the film that special something.

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Verdict: I enjoyed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from start to finish; the magical atmosphere and fact that it plays in winter, makes this a perfect pre-Christmas movie and got me into holiday mood. J.K. Rowling wrote an enthralling script that fits perfectly into the universe she created with the Harry Potter saga, yet it can be watched also as a standalone movie. It has a couple of weaknesses here and there but I love the story nonetheless. The performances are outstanding, especially that of Dan Fogler, and the characters are all loveable. My biggest issue concerns the choice of effects, as there are more CGI than practical effects and at times it is very noticeable, especially when it comes to Scamander's creatures. Overall, I can recommend going to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in cinemas and will give it an 8 out of 10.

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