Magic! Doctor vs. Wizard (Movie Review)

Okay, it’s been a few weeks since Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts came out, so if you haven’t seen them yet, well, you should. So you go do that and I’ll just wait here.

Okay, if you’re not going to see them right now then be warned there my be spoilers below.——

I think it was a pretty bold choice to release Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them so close together. Doctor Strange opened on November 4th and Fantastic Beasts on November 18th. Both are appealing to a very similar audience, deal with magic, are set in an established fantastical world – both in books and large movie franchises, both star British actors with amazing cheekbones who have played Stephen Hawking.

When I think about magic in film I think of Harry Potter. I remember how magical the first couple movies seemed, and how the magic just felt like it deteriorated to wands being no more useful than a good blaster at your side to paraphrase Han Solo. Most of the magic that was saw was the occasional levetation, expansion charm, and flashes of different coloured light shot at the enemy. I was leery of Fantastic Beasts because of a little thing I like to call Prequelitis: Judging by the Star Wars Prequel trilogy and Peter Jackson’s the Hobbit, you can’t go back and recreate the wonder and magic of the originals, and CG everything just makes it worse. I was interested to see what Doctor Strange brought to the table though.

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Doctor Strange:
I wasn’t familiar with the character before seeing the movie, but David was and he was very excited to see the movie. I have enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far and I really like Benedict Cumberbatch as an actor, plus the trailers made it look fantastic, though it definitely conjured up ideas of Inception. David and I went to see it on opening weekend and the movie did not disappoint!

In this movie the magic is tangible. It has form and substance. It’s visually stunning. It oddly makes sense! Benedict (may I call you Benedict? Is Mr. Cumberbatch better?) aside from doing an applaudable American accent, he does a great job playing Doctor Stephen Strange. Doctor Strange was a gifted and arrogant surgeon who, after a horrific accident, loses the use of his hands and embarks on a desperate quest to find a way to regain the dexterity he once had. Mr. Cumberbatch conveys Stephen’s skepticism, struggle (although I wish we had seen more of the struggle) and mastery of magic in a very convincing way. He is a character we can gravitate to, and have lead us into this amazing hidden world of magic. It is a wonderful addition to the MCU and I can’t wait to see him use his magic in future Marvel movies.

That magic! Ooh laa laa! The world bends and warps within mirror dimensions and it is beautiful and disorienting! There’s no fussing with wands although there are objects such as fans, boots and a cape infused with magic, and special rings are needed to open portals. The magic force is sparky and yellow and looks like it has weight and substance. It can be manipulated into weapons and portals. All of the magic in this movie seems to have a purpose, but magic isn’t the answer to everything, they still use wi-fi!

All in all, after seeing this movie, I really didn’t understand why the powers that decide such things wanted to release Fantastic Beasts just two weeks later, while Doctor Strange was still so fresh in everyone’s minds.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:
In all the time leading up to this movie, I didn’t want to get excited for it. I’m a weird Potterhead, I guess. I loved the books, they kept me company during some of my loneliest times. The movies were alright, but they could never hold a candle to the books for me. I was always wanting to see more of the magical elements of the world: Spells, creatures, prophesies, the Ministry of Magic and the Department of Mystery. It all got glossed over in the movies. I did read the periphery books to the Harry Potter series: Tales of Beedle the Bard, Quidditch through the Ages, and yes – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I found all of these books to be a let down. They just didn’t have the trimmings and wonderfulness that I wanted. I must confess, my favourite Harry Potter book is the Order of the Phoenix. I wish JK Rowling had had the time to give the final two books the amount of detail that exists in that book.

But we’re not talking about Harry Potter, we’re talking about Newt Scamander. A totally different story set in the same world! (Quick aside: I hate that the iconic Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter is in this movie! I could rant, but I won’t).

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, a former Hogwarts student (who was kicked out, btw) who comes to New York with a case full of Fantastic Beasts. Eddie (Mr. Redmayne? Nah, I’m sticking with Eddie) does a great job in the role. I can’t say he’s exactly like I imagined from the book because he’s not really a character in the book. He’s the author of a textbook… That’s it! But Eddie makes us believe that he is Newt Scamander, and that he really does care about these magical creatures. He even takes a Muggle, or as American witches and wizards call them No-Majes – no clue how to spell that and I’m holding back a rant about how that is the only wizarding term that is different between American and British magical people… What was I saying? Oh yeah, Newt takes Jacob Kowalski (I had to google to find his name) under his wing after Kowalski is bit by one of Newt’s beasts. These two men form an unlikely friendship, and together they lead the audience into the magical world. Kowalski is easily the eyes through which a lot of the audience see the world, though for the big Potterheads Newt is eyes into this new yet familiar wizarding world. Both Eddie and Dan Fogler do a great job at this.

We get to see new magic in this movie, there is a lot more apparating, and they talk about using the obliviate spell, we get to see a true occlumens (telepath) and are introduced to a tragic ailment of sorts that can affect magical children who reject their magic. But far and away, my favourite use of magic is the inside of Newt’s suitcase. I think that that was just brilliantly shot, and beautifully done. It’s not as grandiose as the kaleidoscope city in Doctor Strange but in it’s small scale and heart it is good magic.

I was happy to be pleasantly surprised by this movie, but one thing I will say is that the trolls in this movie should have been played by little people like they were in Harry Potter. I think that any time you’re going to have a character acting and emoting having a human under prosthetics whenever possible is way more convincing and stands up to the test of time far better than CG.

I will see both of these movies again.

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