I’d give it 7/10
Let me begin with a wish: I wish that Alfonso Cuarón had directed this movie – and he would be also allowed to direct all the rest that are to follow. I don’t really like David Yates’ direction. The movie moves well enough, but there are some cuts and snap tos that I can’t seem to digest as well-directed at all. That being said, the movie belongs to Eddie Redmayne. He has pulled off the role of Newton Scamander so well that the errors of direction seem alright.
*Spoilers ahead – you be warned*
The movie basically deals with Scamander coming in to America to release a thunderbird into the wilds of Arizona. The creature, Frank, as Newt has named him, is absolutely beautiful. I cannot help but admire all those who happen to be sorted in Thunderbird at Ilvermorny. Being one of the house members of Puckwudgie just seems like I was sorted in Slytherin, much like Albus Potter is… But then, I’ll just have to wait and see what being a Puckwudgie would be like – but I digress.
There are various new elements presented in the story. Since it happens on the continent of America I cannot help but see Hillary Clinton as Seraphina Picquery and Percival Graves as Trump. But then again that’s just me: seeing metaphors where none exist.
Eddie Redmayne! Thankfully, he was rejected to play Tom Riddle way back in 2002, when he auditioned for the part in the Chamber of Secrets. Or else, casting him here would have been impossible. This man takes acting to a whole different level. He plays the part of Newt like he was born a wizard, attended Hogwarts, was sorted into Hufflepuff, was expelled from the school, and became a Magizoologist. His reticence reaches his eyes all the time. There is a wariness and diffidence that most animal lovers have when dealing with human beings, the attitude which is so deeply imbibed within them which makes them distrust humans, seeing them as beings that debase the environment and massacre other organisms they deem inferior. Eddie imbues all of this within Newt Scamander, with a faultless charm. There couldn’t have been a better choice to play this. He is to Newt what Martin Freeman was to Bilbo.
Porpentina Goldstein is very well-portrayed by Katherine Waterston. An independent woman who stands up for the downtrodden by breaking rules and therefore loses status at her job which is all about upholding the rules. The magical community doesn’t seem to be very lenient when it comes to the law – it literally (and ironically) is Draconian. I draw parallels again: to me, Tina is like Hermione and Newt is like Harry. Porpentina’s sister, Queenie, is much like Luna Lovegood, and Jacob Kowalski is much like Ron. So at least in this historical spin-off, Harry and Hermione get together. *wink*
Ezra Miller stands out. Maybe because he identifies as queer in real life, he could play this role so vividly. Someone trying to repress who he really is and that leads to his becoming an Obscurial, eventually leading to his detriment. His scenes stand out, parallel to the repressed power of acting shown by the very gifted Samantha Morton.
The MACUSA is created beautifully, one thing is for certain: the visual effects team has done a phenomenal job! Each creature has been lovingly crafted. The sheer imaginative genius of J. K. Rowling has to be hailed once again, for thinking up of these creatures in the first place. I still remember reading both “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” and “Quidditch Through the Ages” so many years ago, and chuckling at her sharp wit and mammoth ingenuity. Now as I see the thunderbird come to life with its six wings, and the beauty of the Occamy slither away after a cockroach, I am awestruck all over again.
Each beast – and there are quite a few in the movie – have been devotedly crafted. To match the benevolence and adoration shown to them by Scamander, the visual effects team have done them complete justice. The erumpent is wonderfully funny, the nundu is majestic, the graphorn is grandiose, and the niffler is as immensely lovable as the bowtruckle is endearing. The Swooping Evil is completely contrary to its name. It literally saves the heroine, ensnares the villain and saves the entire magical community from being exposed to the No-Maj world. The movie is about beasts and where to find them, indeed!
Which brings me to a different sort of beast: Gillert Grindelwald. All of us who have read the Harry Potter books from front to back, several times, over the years, know who he is. When I read his relationship with Dumbledore, I had cocked my eyebrow on reading about it at several places. Hello, this seems like romantic love, I thought to myself – and sure enough, Rowling mentioned after it all was written and done with, that Dumbledore, my hero, was gay. So Gillert became someone he was in love with – or at least, I believe so. Colin Farrell is good – but there literally is applause in the theater when Johnny Depp is revealed as the true Gillert.
But it is in the portrayal of this character, that I find that the film doesn’t add up. How has he taken the identity of Percival Graves? Polyjuice? Is Graves dead? Does Grindelwald already have the elder wand when he duels with Porpentina and then Newt? (The exact date when he gets the Elder Wand could be between 1899-1945, so he may not have it in his possession at the time of these duels.) He is 43 years old when the film is set, at the beginning of, if not already at, the height of his power. So why does he require an Obscurus? How will that help him find the Deathly Hallows? I am sure all of this will eventually be explained. But for that we must wait for another two years. And then another two more and then – oh well, you get the drift.
Yes, I would totally recommend the film. It’s sluggish in the beginning, and apart from the leads, the rest of the cast seems incompetent in their roles. I would commend it for brilliant visual effects – the beasts are breathtaking, and now you know exactly where to find them.