Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
November 19, 2016 6:23 AM - Subscribe

The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York's secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.

Returning to the Harry Potter universe, this time J.K. Rowling takes us to prohibition-era New York for our first glimpse of magical America. While much is familiar, subtle differences (No-Maj, MACUSA) abound. We've left the school days behind and entered a world of witch hunts, speakeasys, and capital punishment.

Potter fans will pick up deeper references (Dumbledore and Grindlewald especially, but also smaller notes like Lestrange), but it's all presented in a way that requires no previous knowledge or familiarity with the boy who lived. Featuring performances by Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Dan Folger, Ezra Miller, and Alison Sudol, and appearances by Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, and more.

The first in a planned series of five movies.
posted by GhostintheMachine (38 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Caught an advance screening on Wednesday, and I've been itching to discuss it for days. My wife delayed our honeymoon so she could buy Goblet of Fire when it was released, so I'm very familiar with the Potter books and movies, but this is the first time I got to view something with no idea what to expect or where it was going. It was a great experience.

Took my 13 year old son, who doesn't care for HP and expected not to like this, and he was entranced. He's a sports-minded kid who doesn't care for SF/Fantasy, yet he called this far and away the best movie he's seen. OK, that's probably not going to be a universal opinion, but it tells me there's something solid here.

It held both our interest all the way through, with a typical Rowling mix of fun, thriller, chaste romance, wonder, and a very deep dark streak. She really mixes creepy and silly family fare well. Excellent performances from the main cast, especially (as expected) Redmayne. Stands well on its own, but a lot of time is spent setting up plot points for future movies.

And that's perhaps my only complaint. You know all those moments in the HP movies where you wish they'd lingered on certain scenes just a bit longer? This one feels like they released the extended version first. There are many scenes that feel just a little bit more drawn out than necessary. Great for fans, not so great if you drank that large fountain pop and you're in the middle of the row.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:38 AM on November 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

This one feels like they released the extended version first. There are many scenes that feel just a little bit more drawn out than necessary.

Yes, this very much. I was actually bored a few times. I think they needed a better editor, because the story languished in some places (how many magical animals did we need to see in the world inside the case?) and rushed in others.

And I wasn't wowed by the script: the story felt disjointed and didn't flow very well.

That said, the cast was pretty good and the movie looked quite lovely. And the animals were very creative, although my favorite was definitely the magical platypus with an eye for shiny things.
posted by suelac at 10:13 AM on November 19, 2016

Jacob Kowalski and Queenie Goldstein were the highlights of the movie for me. Tina seemed woefully underdeveloped, as did Graves. The beasts were great, specifically the giant rhino and the little thief.

Way too much CGI, though. It would be nice if someone could make a movie set in NYC that didn't involved the entire city being destroyed. Ron Perlman's character, the goblin Gnarlack, was in a weird uncanny valley between the actual uncanny valley and real life.

Otherwise, I enjoyed it, but my Potter-obsessed partner was upset about what the movie did to the rules of the Potter-verse. In particular, the possibility that Credence may be alive flies in the face of the established Potter-verse permanence of death. My partner also said something about the wands shouldn't have been able to connect, but someone other than me will have to interpret that one.
posted by miguelcervantes at 11:28 AM on November 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

I had fun watching Fantastic Beasts, though I do agree that the editing could have been tightened up some. The beasts were CGI eye candy and I liked meeting new characters in the wizarding world. Newt definitely reminds me of the 10th and 11th Doctors in all their twitchy charm and habit of saying the wrong thing at the absolute worst time. I enjoyed the little bits that gave Potterheads a nod towards what's to come.
posted by angelchrys at 2:20 PM on November 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: magical platypus with an eye for shiny things.

Now I can't wait to see this! (I was in the purple platypus patrol in scouts)
posted by sammyo at 2:29 PM on November 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

This felt like the purest example of making a new franchise movie and not working hard at all for it to make sense or draw interesting characters. Warner Bros knows it will get the audience, so it's all CGI colour and movement without any real sense of story. I am having a hard time thinking of a more bland lead character than Newt Scamander; are we supposed to care because he's a bit quirky? Apart from having to clean up his own mess, what drives him? Why are we following his story? What's the point? What did he learn over the course of the movie? Did he change? Did anyone change?

I also found the political subtext a bit hard to take after this past week in the real world. I get that underlining the political problems that feel unique to America probably seemed like a great backdrop (as opposed to the class issues/boarding school backdrop of the Harry Potters), but boy did that make a lot of this rather depressing.

Kudos to them keeping that late cameo a secret, but I felt like springing that on us should have meant something more to the film's narrative.
posted by crossoverman at 4:38 PM on November 19, 2016 [12 favorites]

Well, I was disappointed. I thought the movie was a hot mess without a real heart (and it's the heart that I love about the HP world!), with only a few redeeming scenes, and worst of all: piss-poorly developed, mostly annoying characters (although, OK, Jacob turned out lovely).

But my tween/teen kids - huge HP fans for most of their lives now - liked it a lot, and you guys liked it, and the reviews seem good... so maybe it's just me.
posted by sively at 4:42 PM on November 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

This movie could have used fewer long dark effects/action sequences, and more (1) Newt Scamander lecturing anyone in sight about the wonders of various magical beasts, (2) politics and intrigue within MACUSA, and (3) glimpses of everyday life in the magical United States.
posted by mbrubeck at 6:08 PM on November 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

What did he learn over the course of the movie? Did he change? Did anyone change?

Well, he learned to make friends, and that he didn't have to operate alone. He starts out not very trusting, having operated alone in Africa and other places previously in his animal collections. He admits to Jacob that he doesn't make friends easily. At the end he's got his own core four, in a way. He also succeeded in getting others to consider these beasts as potentially worth protecting, instead of being ordered destroyed almost immediately. Tina lost her blind faith in her government as well.

I'd suggest Newt changes more than Harry did in his first adventure.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 8:01 PM on November 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Some things I did like about the movie: The newspaper headlines and adverts in the opening sequence. Hints about the magical world's international relations and the war with Grindelwald. Using legilimency to fast-forward a relationship between two characters. Bowtruckles. "But we made them cocoa!"
posted by mbrubeck at 8:17 PM on November 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

The theater I went to (in LA) collectively groaned at the third act cameo. And I understood only about half of anything from Redmayne's mouth.
posted by casarkos at 8:29 PM on November 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Bored bored bored. Very disappointed.

I wanted subtitles because all dialogue seemed barely spoken above a whisper; Redmayne appears to suffer lockjaw the entire film. No one opens their mouth.

Also Redmayne also never looks anyone in the eye (he spends the whole movie with his head down and eyes slewed to the side and sometimes just looked... addlepated). I was a big fan previously but if this performance was my only knowledge of him, I'd have wondered WTF all the fuss was about. If they plan a huge character arc for him across the future 4 films, then that's fine I guess but damn, Newt 1.0 was frustratingly slow, awkward and very difficult to watch.

Next to the CGI every human character seems so restrained and tightly-wound (except for the glowingly beautiful and natural Alison Sudol (Queenie), who seemed to be living in a different universe), I found myself wanting to shake them and give a Cher-in-Moonstruck "snap out of it!" slap across the face. Everyone is just... joyless. Desperate and dystopian. Perhaps this was meant to contrast with the color and Oz-like "otherness" of the suitcase world? Regardless, for me this is not a video game or cartoon and effects are nothing when the humans who drive the story are so unappealing.

I was tense just watching them and not once did I relax into the story. The theatre was full and I was in the center or I would have left and snuck into a different theatre for anything else that might have made me feel.... something. No actor displayed any emotion or affect that registered to any degree comparable to the computer effects.

The lead female (Tina) and the lead villainess (the anti-witchcraft charity-house "mother") resembled each other to a degree that it was some time before kids watching near me got clear on the fact that they were different people.

I suppose kids won't notice any of this. They will likely enjoy it for all the reasons I hated it.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:33 AM on November 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I managed to pare my feelings down enough for a snide tweet: "Were you frustrated that the ending of LOTR: Return of the King didn't drag on long enough? Then you'll LOVE Fantastic Beasts!"

But seriously, the instant Team Newt caught those last two creatures the movie should have started winding up. If I had known in advance that this was supposed to be the anchor for a new multi-part series (and I should have known this, of course it is) I might have understood better why all the sudden we still had what felt like two hours of b-plot B.S. to suffer through.

And man, I dunno, I literally did not know anything about this movie other than what some trailer on TV had showed me. I'm a low-level Potter nerd, read most of the books, saw most of the movies, but not totally into it. I don't know who Grindlewald is or whatever. All I know is that during the opening credits we saw Grindlewald's head from the back and I thought, "That haircut looks like the one Colin Farrell was sporting in the previews, just a different color. I wonder if that's him as a young man or something?" and so the rest of the movie I was just waiting for people to say, "And Colin Ferrell is that bad guy." If it was supposed to be a dramatic reveal it was lost on me, and I wasn't even actively trying to figure it out or anything.

Parting though: if I never see another movie where the climax revolves around a big city being destroyed, it'll be ten movies too late. I'm 100% tired of that garbage. I don't care if it's specifically shown to be abandoned (Pacific Rim) or magically repaired afterward (Dr. Strange, Fantastic Beasts), it's just ... I don't know. I'm too tired to articulate it correctly.
posted by komara at 9:15 AM on November 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think the phrase you're looking for is "I'm tired of cities getting fridged"
posted by lefty lucky cat at 10:43 AM on November 20, 2016 [9 favorites]

The instant restoration of New York also reminded me of the 2016 Ghostbusters remake, and that got me to thinking about other ways this movie felt like "Ghostbusters in the 1920s"...
posted by mbrubeck at 11:36 AM on November 20, 2016

Wow. That was a mess. It felt to me like J. K. Rowling, after seeing all her 600+ books truncated to fit into two hours of film, sacrificing all sorts of little important moments, decided to have her revenge by showing just how you could cram 600 pages into 2 hours... There were just too many characters, too many plot points, too little character development or reason to care, punctuated with some truly charming, magical moments. It definitely made me long to read the book (not the actual one, but the one in Rowling's head that she based her screenplay on).
posted by Mchelly at 4:20 PM on November 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I saw this on Sunday and found it sufficiently amusing, but the story was awfully thin. I did enjoy the beast hijinks, and Jacob and Queenie. At least Tina clearly had a life before Newt showed up, and obviously will continue to have a life after his departure...though I agree her character was definitely underdeveloped. Knowing that future movies will feature Johnny Depp skipping around being weird definitely discourages enthusiasm for me.
posted by esoterrica at 9:16 AM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

We need to talk about that wallflower Ezra Miller. He's getting a little old (at 24) to continue being typecast as a troubled teen.
posted by larrybob at 12:28 PM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

The instant restoration of New York also reminded me of the 2016 Ghostbusters remake

Between this one, that one, and another movie currently playing which I shall not name as to not to drop spoilers on anyone, "Rewinding the Disaster" is pretty much an official thing in movies right now. Wasn't there a bit of that in The Lego Movie, too? Or am I misremembering?
posted by radwolf76 at 4:34 PM on November 21, 2016

I liked, but i thought that Redmair was channeling his inner Matt Smith, or that Matt Smith would have player the part better, except it might have been too "doctory".
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 12:03 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well, I hadn't intended to see this movie on opening day with all three of my boys (4,5,&7) but that's what happened, and it's the first movie all year that my kids sat through without begging to go home halfway through, and I was utterly entranced (I had SOME of the same complaints about Redmayne's take on the character as mentioned above, but I thought his arc was good AND, sorry, but is he or is he not the most powerful wizard we've seen from the canon? That bag! Taking out Grindelwald in two flicks! He's so effortlessly powerful, I think that is the biggest hint yet of what's to come in the next few movies).

Anyway, I loved it.
posted by annathea at 7:20 AM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

i thought that Redmair was channeling his inner Matt Smith

Yes, I couldn't quite put my finger on his performance but he was definitely very 11th Doctor-ish.

I just saw it last night, and liked it overall. A couple of parts dragged, like the dinner scene. I think it was supposed to be character building, but it only sort of worked for Jacob and Queenie, an pretty bare as a whole. I really enjoyed the beasts, I wouldn't have mind like 15 more minutes of just more explorations of the suitcase. The story on a whole wasn't much, but knowing it was the first of a series definitely puts things in perspective. I dunno how one could think the main plot was recapturing the beasts when the intro was all about Grundelwall and it starts out with an attack by the Obscurial. I chuckled quite a bit Queenie commented that she couldn't figure out Newt because of his accent. I have the same problem!
posted by numaner at 11:09 AM on November 26, 2016

Saw this and really enjoyed it, even though I normally don't like 3D. It was a touch long, but I enjoyed each scene so much I didn't really care. It's funny, reading the things people hated about the movie because I really liked them: the dinner scene, charming! The first trip to the suitcase, enchanting! I wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I liked Harry Potter (books or movies) but I did. It was transporting and just what I needed.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:41 AM on November 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also Redmayne also never looks anyone in the eye (he spends the whole movie with his head down and eyes slewed to the side and sometimes just looked... addlepated).

My husband commented that Newt was probably on the autism spectrum.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:22 PM on November 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yeah I loved this. Apparently I am all of your children, because I sat entranced with a big dopey grin on my face throughout the movie. I forgot how much I missed Harry Pottery world building. I just love it. I don't even care that the plot of this movie wasn't that great, or that Depp and Farrell have the same haircut and are CLEARLY the same guy duh, or that Eddie is a mush mouth. DON'T CARE. I got to see another movie with secret hidden magical government buildings and promises of Dumbledore and Grindelwald and OMG NIFFLERS ARE JUST AS ADORABLE AS I ALWAYS IMAGINED. And we're going to get more of them!

I do hope they address the incredible extension charm work on that case because wow, that's a doozy.

p.s. I saw a few movies in the theater today, and saw Arrival just before this, and man the obscurus totally looks like the heptapods' writing before it takes form, that's all I could think of.
posted by phunniemee at 6:29 PM on November 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

Oh oh oh and I'm super glad that Colin Farrell is in a HP movie because it means the In Bruges crossover cast is one step closer to completion!
posted by phunniemee at 6:31 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I forgot how much I missed Harry Pottery world building. I just love it.
Yes, this movie reminded me again that there's a reason I prefer the way J. K. Rowling builds worlds (as opposed to say Tolkien) - she just has such a light touch, there's never anything ponderous or forced about it.
posted by peacheater at 6:37 PM on November 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

1. Yet another setup for yet another series franchise: nope.
2. Johnny Depp doing his Johnny Depp thing: nope.
3. Oh look, another movie with a city being destroyed & rebuilt: nope.

I wanted to like it, truly I did; but was underwhelmed, to say the least.
posted by easily confused at 8:23 AM on November 27, 2016

Saw it in 3D, loved it. It didn't matter to me that the pacing was slower, I thought it was a refreshing change from all the recent superhero movies: snarky dialog, big giant battle, snarky dialog, big giant battle, like clockwork ad nauseum. It let me take my time to explore the new world. The storytelling seemed much more careful than most films, closer to a novel. And I have a HUGE crush on Jacob Kowalski now. The Queenie/Jacob pairing was a pure delight.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 1:06 PM on November 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in the loved-it camp. Echoing the point about Rowling's world-building, Jacob and Queenie being wonderful, the creatures being mostly fun rather than CGI-yawnfests. I thought Redmayne totally pulled it off, too (made the character watchable and charming rather than insufferable).
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:47 PM on November 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

"I dunno how one could think the main plot was recapturing the beasts when the intro was all about Grundelwall and it starts out with an attack by the Obscurial."

Since I said something more or less to that effect I'll answer your comment: based on the previews and title of the movie, that's what I thought I was getting into. Based on the first few minutes I knew I was wrong, but that didn't make me care about the new-to-me subplot that left me bored.
posted by komara at 8:01 PM on November 27, 2016

Saw this over the holiday weekend, and my daughter, a giant HP fan, was extremely ... excited? bemused? weirded out? ... by the fact Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp played the same character—just like they did in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus! I wonder if anyone else was struck by that.
posted by stargell at 3:07 PM on November 30, 2016

Liked: all the wonderful CGI creatures.

Liked: Jacob and Queenie. Especially Jacob. Hoping he comes back for future movies in the series.

Didn't like: alleged good guys obliviating an entire city with apparently zero ethical qualms in doing so. This is hardly the first work which has too easily glossed over such issues. I still remember an episode of the 90s animated X-Men where Professor X erases the memories of the entire crowd at a high school football game who has just witnessed a mutant battle...and I'm left going, "and not one of the X-Men has a problem with this? And these are supposed to be the good guys?" I'm sorry, but to me fucking with people's memories raises a host of ethical issues in genre works which are all too often ignored.

Didn't like: the idea that the only options for wizards is either a) all out war with muggles no-majs, or b) remain hidden. This is really an issue with the HPverse generally, but is more at the forefront in this movie. No attempt or even acknowledgement of the possibility of open and mostly peaceful coexistence? That seems problematic for... well, almost any real-world issue you'd care to map magical ability to.

Didn't much care one way or the other: Johnny Depp. Albeit a bit relieved as I didn't think Graves was villainous enough to sustain a five-movie series. I'll reserve judgment on Depp until we (presumably) see Grindewald fleshed out more in the later movies.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:53 PM on December 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

I finally saw this. I liked it, but it had pacing problems. I think most of that was down to the editing. I was never bored, but it felt like a lot of scenes were about 15 seconds too long. The script had that Rowling touch, but there was some stuff in there that I don't think would have made the cut if this wasn't JK Rowling writing it. All the business about the woman who broke Newt's heart, what was that? There was too much of it, for something that stayed so vague. It made me feel like this was the sequel, and we'd missed part one. And we needed to see how rotten Colin Farrell was, a lot sooner. The moment when he punched poor Creedence in the face was truly shocking, but until then he just seemed like a creep and not that threatening. We needed some big threat, sooner.

I'd be amazed if they don't bring Kowalski back, and I hope they do. Usually in a big fantasy movie the everyman audience identification character is the blandest thing in it. Think of what's-his-name in the first Hellboy, who was written out with a line in the sequel and unmourned by anybody. But Kowalski kind of stole the show, he was just such a sweet little pug of a man. And Queenie, oh my lord! Not everything worked in this movie, but the stuff that did work really worked.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:29 AM on January 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Didn't like: the idea that the only options for wizards is either a) all out war with muggles no-majs, or b) remain hidden. This is really an issue with the HPverse generally, but is more at the forefront in this movie. No attempt or even acknowledgement of the possibility of open and mostly peaceful coexistence? That seems problematic for... well, almost any real-world issue you'd care to map magical ability to."
This is really why I wish they had developed Depp a lot more, because it is his and Dumbledore's whole shtick circa about this era. They want to establish a new hierarchical order with wizards benevolently managing muggle affairs for us with their immense magical power. This would give us many of the benefits of their medical knowledge, impressive toys, and the sheer power that they have over the natural world. However, it would also involve us directly in their affairs while granting us no power to shape them, and remove any agency we might have over our own affairs.

I imagine exploring these issues, with Dumbledore presenting the other Janus face of it, will be the focus of at least one of the next five movies.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:33 AM on January 9, 2017

I'm not steeped enough in HP-lore to know about the Dumbledore/Grindlewald thing, but Redmayne definitely mumbled something (count me among the people who had trouble understanding him due to accent + lockjaw) a couple of times about how MACUSA's "totally separate" policy was a real problem. So I think they're intentionally setting up a situation where the American magic community's, well, prejudices against no-maj are more explicit than in the UK and Europe, and it's going to cause serious problems down the line.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:49 PM on January 15, 2017

Funny, my hearing is not great and usually I'm the one crabbing about how everybody is mumbly, but I don't recall having any trouble with Redmayne. (Although I also got a very 11th Doctor-y vibe off him.)

My two all-time worst offender movie mumblers are Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride and Brando in The Freshman. I literally sat through both movies with no idea what they were saying, and it got really old watching the audience crack up around me when all I was hearing was murblemurrflemumble.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:57 PM on January 16, 2017

So since the newest of the Fantastic Beats is just out, I read some comments saying that the first movie was pretty good, and the ones after were terrible, so I figured I'd go ahead and watch the first one.

I, uh...well, I ended up fast-forwarding through almost the entire thing after about the first twenty minutes. Maybe I can't legitimately review it after that, but for me it was both dull and incoherent. There were a few pretty CGI creatures, and the guy playing the Muggle baker seemed like a good character, but on the whole, I gave it a big meh. Even my Mads-fancy won't get me to watch the new one, I think.
posted by PussKillian at 10:43 AM on May 31, 2022

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