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Colt Chronicle

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is better watched on mute

Although a visually stunning movie, the newest addition to the wildly popular Harry Potter franchise disappoints fans with a confusing, ill-thought out plot.

Photo+by+Warner+Bros.
Photo by Warner Bros.

Photo by Warner Bros.

Photo by Warner Bros.

Ramishah Maruf, Editor-in-Chief

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Its special effects are unparalleled. Its predecessor has a global following. Its hero, Eddie Redmayne, is one of the most acclaimed young stars of the decade.

Yet, despite all these merits, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” will leave both veteran “Harry Potter” fanatics and casual moviegoers confused with an array of subplots and twists.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a shy, scatter-brained wizard, fresh off a global expedition to rescue and rehabilitate magical creatures, ranging from thieving, platypus-like mammals to majestic, oversized birds. He stores them in a suitcase when he arrives in New York during the 1920s; to the eyes of the No-Majs (the American equivalent to Muggles) the case is filled with clothes and books, but to the wizarding community it holds an expansive habitat for hundreds of creatures.

The wizarding world in America is vastly different from the one set up by J.K. Rowling in the original Harry Potter series. American wizards and witches are governed by a magical congress, known as the MACUSA. They are led by a Madame President, Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo). They hide their existence in closely-guarded secrecy (America has never taken kindly to witchcraft) and uphold strict laws, unlike their British counterparts, who often collaborate with their Muggle government.

This is why Scamander is faced with a severe problem when, after accidentally switching suitcases with affable baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a number of his creatures escape and wreak havoc across the city, threatening to expose the wizarding community to the No-Maj world. Former auror, now wizarding law enforcement agent, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), spies on Scamander, but soon gets sucked into the overdrawn scavenger hunt with her flirtatious, mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and a baffled Kowalski.

Yet this is not the only part of the plot. At the same time, MACUSA is on the cusp of war with the No-Maj world. Anti-wizard sentiments are on the rise, led by stone-hearted Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), who runs the cult-like New Salem Philanthropic Society. Barebone’s abused son, Credence (Ezra Miller) is simultaneously working for MACUSA with corrupt auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell). The movie’s climax and central conflict has seemingly nothing to do with Newt and his creatures.

J.K. Rowling is foremost an author, not a screenwriter. Although she certainly did a commendable job on her first movie, her skills as a writer were often painfully obvious. The intricate, interchangeable subplots would have made an excellent 600-page novel, but crucial character and story developments were absent in order to fit into a two-hour film. It was difficult to get attached to the foursome (Scamander, Kowalski and the Goldstein sisters) who, suggested to become as eminent as the trio in Harry Potter (Harry, Hermione and Ron), had little time to bond with each other, much less the audience, during the non-stop action. Little was revealed about each character’s back story; the audience was left pondering even Scamander’s past as a magizoologist.

However, the relationships Rowling developed between the individual characters is what will bring audiences back for the inevitable sequels. The personalities of Scamander and Tina Goldstein perfectly juxtapose each other; Redmayne plays the part of a gawky, yet romantic hero to a tee, and Waterson excels in developing a grounded, serious witch into one who eventually lets herself fall for Scamander. The romance between Kowalski and Queenie is both amusing and charming. Rowling uses this as a social critique — the wizarding community looks down upon No-Majs, who openly persecute witchcraft, therefore Queenie is banned from fraternizing with No-Maj Jacob. Scamander and Kowalski’s antics, even in the face of peril, provide a light-hearted atmosphere for the audience.

Where the movie lacked in plot, it excelled in visuals. Harry Potter veteran David Yates returned as director, giving audiences a familial atmosphere in every scene. The massive budget reserved for CGI effects was obvious, leaving the audience enchanted with stunning visuals of magical creatures and 1920s New York.

Fans left in anticipation from the shock ending can rejoice — a five-movie arc is already planned for the series.

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