Welcome back, you lovely cinephiles! We have for you today a Face-Off that will surely inspire much debate (and possibly anger) among you, which always makes for fun conversation. In honor of SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY coming out last Friday we will be comparing two movies that sparked the first of what will be many spin-off/prequels in the Harry Potter and Star Wars sagas – FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM and ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.
Both coming out in 2016, these movies represented a shift in their respective sagas, in that they were meant to show a side of their worlds we hadn’t seen before, fit with new stories and characters. BEASTS showed us a whole new side of the Wizarding world, taking us to a 1920s America, and away from modern England of the HP movies. ROGUE ONE takes place not long before the events of A NEW HOPE, showing us how the plans for the Death Star got into the hands of the Rebels.
Today these two blockbusters cross the franchise isles to give each other a beating, and only one prequel/spin-off to rule them all. Wait, that last line is from another franchise, right?
Even before taking on FANTASTIC BEASTS David Yates
had directed more HP movies than anyone before him. He understands the world well, brought the characters into maturity, and brought to life the darker elements of the later stories. With FB he brought the sure hand to this new story while continuing to capture the magic we’ve come to expect from these movies about, um, magic. Much like the latter four HP movies, Yates ably juggles the darker themes of the movie by ensuring they’re ever-present (see all the scenes with Credence and Graves) while not going too heavy-handed or deep into something evil. This makes the transition between dramatic moments and magical ones easier to digest while accepting all these are all elements that make up the same world. Sure, there’s some dark shit going on, but look at how adorable that little green plant character is! What I’m trying to say is that there are two sides to this coin, Yates is able to flip between them with ease. This is in large part because he’s so good with actors, and he gets genuine, realistic performances out of all his actors. Movies like this could often be too silly to embrace but getting relatable performances out of your actors is key to selling everything as something people can buy into. That all being said, as firm a hand on the wheel as Yates has the whole thing feels rather familiar. That’s not a bad thing, but I can’t help but feel like the movie could’ve benefitted from a different voice behind the camera if only to really make this new franchise feel unique.
This one is tricky because to say Gareth Edwards’
gets all the credit is simply not true. As we know, Tony Gilroy
was brought on to fix the movie after Lucasfilm lost faith in Edwards. He ended up supervising over postproduction and having a massive influence on the final cut, ON TOP of getting a screenplay credit pretty late in the game, which is no small thing. Still, credit where credit is due, and Edwards has the big credit. What we see is mostly his vision, and he did a great job of giving ROGUE its own style that set it apart from past Star Wars movies. It’s grounded and gritty without coming off as ugly, with the battle sequences and action being some of the best in the series. He framed things in a way that made sure the immense scope was highlighted, creating some truly awe-inspiring Star Wars visuals. His work with actors is something to be desired, and though the actors seem to be trying to do their best with weak material there’s just no chemistry between them. In the end, I can’t avoid the fact the end product of this movie was a dual effort between Gilroy and Edwards (even Mendelsohn said there was an enormously different
version of the movie from Edwards), and at the end of the day, what the two worked to craft is a briskly paced, visually astounding sci-fi epic that does accomplish the goal of feeling and looking different than past entries. It could’ve been a masterwork if not for the next category
A wizard by the name of Newt Scamander has arrived in New York as he starts his journey across America on magical creature business. However, his journey takes a terrible turn when some of his beasts go missing in the city, starting a citywide creature hunt. What doesn’t help matters is that a mysterious entity is causing havoc around the city, with Newt and his creatures becoming suspect number one. But something much more wicked is at work, and Newt may have to become the hero he never intended to be. All he wanted to do was some sightseeing.
When watching the movie the first time it’s hard to get a grip on the story as a whole, perhaps because it can’t help but feel like two movies. On one hand, there’s Newt hunting for his creatures, and on the other, there’s Graves manipulating Credence to help him find another child (this guy sends up some red flags) who is an Obsurial. It’s hard to discover how this all intersects. There are some links, like the fact that the destructive Obscurus, which is what Graves is trying to find, leads Tina, an Auror, to suspect Newt of having some hand in it. Why it feels like two different stories playing out is because the goals of Newt don’t have anything to do with the goals of the conflicting character (Graves). Newt just wants to get his beasts and go home. He only finds a place in the third act because he simply finds himself there, not because his arc in the movie has been leading up to it. Like I said, the links are there, it’s just that the big chunks of the story tug the links away from each other to make it all feel less connected. Still, the strength of the script comes from Rowling’s firm grasp on her own world and her gift for creating compassionate heroes and despicable villains. These characters are well developed and are fleshed out with Rowling’s trademark wit and pathos. Along with creating engaging characters Rowling expands her world and adds a sense of evil and mystery that, though signal only the beginning of a new series, makes the movie stand on its own from the very famous POTTER movies.
The Empire is in full control and is wreaking havoc across the galaxy, and the Rebels need to find a way to come out on top or else they’re all doomed. In order to combat the immensely destructive Death Star, they enlist the help of Jyn Erso, the daughter of the man who built it. She must track down her dad with the help of a guy and his much more charming robot pal in order to find her dad and discover the weakness in the Empire’s weapon. Oh, and along the way they find more companions who tag along on their journey and help them fight Stormtroopers.
The story here is much more consistent than in BEASTS, but that’s not a winning trait. The Empire is building their weapon, the Rebels need to destroy it, so they enlist Jyn who goes on her journey to find her dad and so on and so on. It’s simple and follows a typical action/adventure storyline and structure to a fault, while also giving Star Wars fans more context for A NEW HOPE. That’s well and good for SW fans, but the movie has one fatal flaw when it comes to making you give a shit about anything that happens: the characters. The people who we are supposed to be rooting for are weak and one-dimensional, and the movie seems so focused on moving from one action set piece to another and assembling its crew that it ignores all character development. Jyn’s emotional conflict goes about as deep as missing her father, and Cassian is a prick who for some reason has a change of heart. Everyone else is just along for the ride, and none of them (except Chirrut and K-2SO) have any charm or depth. Because of this, it’s hard to care about the movie’s story other than for the content, especially because we already know what the result of all this will be (the plans going into the hands of the Rebels at the start of A NEW HOPE). I’m not saying a movie where we know the outcome can’t be good (see the little indie flick TITANIC to get my point), but it’s hard to care about that story when virtually all of the characters on screen driving that story couldn’t be less interesting, making the whole movie seem pointless.
Newt Scamander was a character HP fans have known of since the earliest days of the series when a young bespectacled Potter had to buy his book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” for school. Now he’s getting to lead his own series, and I would even go as far as to say he’s a bit more interesting than Harry himself. He’s a shy, sensitive, awkward, quirky, impish, passionate wizard who speaks about his suitcase-full of magical creatures with a glint of wonder in his eyes. Eddie Redmayne does a great job of creating this character on screen, bringing out the character’s passion for his creatures while juxtaposing it with a withdrawn, unengaged demeanor when he’s around humans. Redmayne plays him like a man who’s been hurt by humans before, only for there to be a hint about his past love life with Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz). What makes him such a rich character is that — unlike Harry, who has the basic character traits of a young hero — his journey is about him learning to care about other people, which proves that deep down his most admirable trait is his sense of compassion and kindness.
Jyn Erso. She’s angry, tough, a bit heartbroken and, well, that’s about it, really. The biggest problem in ROGUE ONE is that none of the characters are well developed. They’re just sort of thrown into the action without any exploration about who they are or what they want. We go from seeing Jyn as a young child hiding from the Empire to seeing her as an ass-kicking adult who hates everything. What else happened in her past? Was she a soldier at one point? Did some young man or woman break her heart along the way? We don’t know anything about her because she’s only brought in to help the Rebellion find her father, and then when he dies she goes all Rebel leader because…why? Because her dad would want her to? There’s no emotional challenge she goes through, and her personality changes on a dime. Felicity Jones does her best with the character, bringing out her fire and passion and jumping into the action scenes. But, if she can only convey surface-level emotions its because that’s all she has to work with. Most of the movie’s characters are simply means to an end, and it’s shame that also applies to this leading heroine.
Entering Magical Congress of the United States of America
Magic in the Apartment
Kowalski: “Newt. I don’t think I’m dreaming.”
Newt: “What gave it away?”
Kowalski: “I ain’t got the brains to make this up.”
Newt: “Yes, Mr. Kowalski. For they’re currently in alien terrain surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet… Humans.”
Beast Hunting in New York
Newt: “Well, my philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”
The Little Jewlery Theif
Obscurous Attacks the Banquet
Graves: “You were thrown out of Hogwarts for endangering human life with a beast. Yet one of your teachers argued strongly against your expulsion. Now… what makes Albus Dumbledore… so fond of you?”
The Killing Potion
The Final Beasts
Graves vs. Newt
Goodbye to Friends
Battle on Jedha
K-2SO: [after Jyn shoots an identical droid] “Did you know that wasn’t me?”
Jyn: “Yeah. Of course.”
Chirrut: “I am one with the Force; the Force is with me.”
Destruction on Jedha
Battle on Eadu
Death of Galen
Vader: “Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director.”
Jyn: “Rebellions are built on hope.”
K-2SO: “I’ll be there for you. Cassian said I had to.”
Bodhi: “This is Rogue One.”
Battle on Scariff
K-2SO: “Your behavior, Jyn Erso, is continually unexpected.”
Destruction of Scariff
FANTASTIC BEASTS goes right out of the gate with a sampling of the classic Harry Potter theme, all before bursting into something different with a lively, jaunty tune that solidifies the movie as its own – ahem – beast. This score takes from the sounds John Williams established on the earliest HP films (much like ROGUE ONE does), but only on certain occasions. Composer James Newton Howard delivers a score that offers a constant variety of sounds that flesh out the movie, including some Danny Elfman-like whimsical numbers, and a period-appropriate jazz incorporation for the more casual moments. More importantly, as much as it might take from Williams’ theme from time to time, Howard factors in his own, new theme for the bigger moments. We hear this during the movie’s opening moments, and when we go into Newt’s case. It signifies we are entering a new world of discovery, and hopefully, it will prove just as wondrous as the one we’ve experienced before.
Almost nothing beats Star Wars music, given John Williams’ long tenure behind the score. He stepped away from the franchise for ROGUE ONE, leaving the reigns to none other than Alexandre Desplat. Then he bailed after a schedule conflict and the studio went ahead and called Michael Giacchino. He only had a month to do the music (starting it right after doing DOCTOR STRANGE), and he does a solid job of incorporating the classic SW sounds while injecting his own voice. He was inspired by war movies of the past to match the serious tone of the movie, with his score resulting in something that would fit in a movie like THE DIRTY DOZEN…mixed with Star Wars. Still, it’s not as complex a score as FANTASTIC BEASTS, with the high points taking more from Williams’ score. That’s not a bad thing, as that music is perfect, but perhaps with more time, Giacchino could’ve left a more indelible print on Star Wars.
VISUAL EFFECTS/PRODUCTION DESIGN
The creatures in FANTASTIC BEASTS take the cake here in terms of effects, with the VFX team creating some terrifically detailed specimens that expand our sense of wonder. Other than that, there’s nothing new or exciting here that we haven’t seen in the HP movies, with some cool magic and wand battles taking place. The movie earns its stripes thanks to some amazing production design and Oscar-winning costume design that meshes the 1920s atmosphere with the magic we’ve come to know and love. The level of detail and ingenuity in all the HP films are some of the best in all of franchise filmmaking, and FB is no exception.
On a visual level ROGUE ONE is one of the most jaw-dropping movies in the Star Wars canon. There are a heft and weight behind some of the bigger scenes, like when Jedha is being leveled or when Scariff is, well, being leveled. The shots take a step back and really let you become engulfed in the sheer size of the spectacle, putting the severity of the Empire’s powers into perspective. The effects are also nicely incorporated into the practical effects, like the ground-level battles. This helps elevate the visual experience of the movie to something special, even though on a production design level isn’t terribly different than past SW movies. And no, this movie does not lose this point simply for making Tarkin and Leia look like nightmares come to life. Although I did consider it.
Rowling brought her gift for crafting engaging, endearing, and interesting characters to FANTASTIC BEASTS, creating a likable new hero in Newt Scamander. Alongside him are a colorful band of characters like Tina Goldstein, a disgraced Auror trying to earn back some favor in MACUSA; her sister Queenie, a breathy-voiced, whimsical bombshell who has the gift of Legilimency and; Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj who just wants to bake cakes and pies all before getting swept up in magical shenanigans. There’s a sweet romance between Queenie and Jacob, with the latter seeing something in him that goes beyond the ordinary. The most interesting of the gang are Newt and Tina, with the former having more sympathy for creatures than humans, and the latter being so focused on catching him that she doesn’t care to really look at what he’s doing. Together they learn to care about something, and someone, beyond their own goals, developing an emotional connection that feels earned rather than forced. All of these characters are charming and well-developed, with Rowling taking the time to flesh them out as human beings who have a reason for being there.
The worse thing about ROGUE ONE is that despite all the talent in front of the camera the characters they’re given to play are cured with one-dimensional traits and are simply dragged along for the ride. As I discussed earlier, there’s little motivation explained behind Jyn’s thoughts and feelings, coming off as nothing but jaded. Then there are the other men around, like Cassian Andor, who is, for the most part, a bit of a prick with little charm. There’s not a lot of reason to root for him given how little depth and emotion he demonstrates. After him, there are smaller characters like Baze and Chirrut, who are awesome in a fight, but who don’t have much else to do except be sort of wise now and again. Rounding out the gang in Bodhi, a character who also gets caught up the adventure and always seems to be at the same level of anxious. All of the characters are outshined by the droid K-2SO, which is startling given how all this talent is outshined by a robot.
One reason not as many people were over the moon for FB is that it detours so far away from the original series in terms of scope and sheer adventure. Whereas we were taken into the magical world of Hogwarts before (and all done in the framework of a massive coming of age tale) with HP, this movie keeps things more contained by existing in our normal, boring, human world. Yes, we get a look into MACUSA and inside Newt’s case, but these are still very contained worlds we have yet to truly explore.
The SW movies have always brought the spectacle, and with ROGUE ONE the visual palette is incredibly thrilling. The space action is some of the best in the series, the aerial combat having a more kinetic, visceral feel to it. Then there’s the destructive power of the Death Star as it lays waste to planets, and the Empire itself seems more massive and imposing than in past movies. The characters and story may be weak, but let it not be said ROGUE ONE does not offer the spectacle and sheer breadth we deserve from a Star Wars movie.
Percival Graves is a desperate, powerful man who manipulates poor Credence into helping seek what he wants. That means luring him into a false sense of security and promising him a place in the magical world. He’s a seedy, despicable man, and Farrell is great at bringing out that evil, almost seductive persona. He doesn’t always have the most room to play around in, but he still sells the villain role well. In the end, we discover that the villain, Graves, is really Grindelwald in disguise and is played by Johnny Depp. The irony here is that I actually would’ve liked to see Depp in the movie more than Farrell. Farrell is a great actor and does a solid job with Graves, but Depp is much better at playing sinister and would’ve given the scenes a much more villainous air.
Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic is a lot like Graves, in that he’s desperate to establish himself as a powerful figure that the world will bow to. The difference here is that his desire for power goes through more hurdles, whether it’s not getting the results he wants or having credit taken away from him through bureaucratic angles. He’s a man who wants so much only to fail more often, making him seem more ruthless. Mendelsohn is a gifted actor who gives Krennic a fire and rage and, not to mention, wears a white cape like a badass fashionista. You go, Krennic! Flaunt it!
At first glance, FANTASTIC BEASTS might look like a blatant cash grab from Warner Bros. The Harry Potter movies are done, but they still want to make some of that sweet money off some new wizarding characters. But, the actual content of the movie doesn’t play out like that fan-service product. Rowling genuinely expands on the Wizarding World by giving us some new locations to discover, unique creatures to marvel at, and demonstrating how other cultures in the WW live. The focus is certainly on developing all the new stuff, while the inklings about Grindelwald and the Deathly Hallows are sprinkled in as connective tissue to the story we all know (and will be expanded on more in the sequel). By the end, there’s a sense you actually know vastly more about the magical world, and not like you’ve been spoonfed a bunch of stuff we already know so much about, like Quidditch and how much Potions class sucks compared to Defense Against the Dark Arts.
The Star Wars universe is vast and extraordinary with so much room to develop new stories and completely change how we see the franchise as a whole. So, naturally, the first Star Wars spin-off movie is dedicated solely to how the plans for the Death Star were retrieved, and explain how the massive structure had one huge design flaw. That’s basically what we walk away from at the end of the movie. Nothing else new besides the characters…and they all die in the end, which seemed to be their only purpose. Sure, this does expand on the story of the main Skywalker Saga, as it explains what was going on slightly before A NEW HOPE starts. If you wanted to know what Darth Vader was doing, you now know (answer: some badass shit). But, ultimately, this movie is less about broadening your view of the franchise and more fan-service in giving you slightly more context on one part of a story you already know. Granted, that’s still pretty awesome if you’re a Star Wars fan.
Best Costume Design
Best Production Design
**14 Wins & 51 Nominations (per IMDB)**
$234 million domestic ($814 million global)
Best Sound Mixing
Best Visual Effects
Favorite Movie Poster
Most Memorable Scene: “Darth Vader battle”
Best Line of the Year: “I am one with the Force; the Force is with me.”
Favorite Movie of the Year
Most Overrated Movie
Best Sci-Fi Movie of the Year
Best Special Effects of the Year
Coolest Character of the Year: K-2SO
Best Action Scene of the Year: “Final Battle”
Best Trailer of the Year
**23 Wins & 79 Nominations (per IMDB)**
$532 million domestic ($1 billion global)
Some of you may be saying “duh” over this conclusion, but I can tell you this is far from a “duh” result. Actually, this is one of several outcomes where the result differs from my own personal choice. Dollars to donuts, I prefer FANTASTIC BEASTS. I like the sense of humor, characters, and imagination more than the action of ROGUE ONE, meaning it makes for more enjoyable rewatching. But the Face-Off is about the fine details, and ROGUE ONE simply comes out on top over BEASTS in more categories, doing better with more than BEASTS. ROGUE ONE has very poor character development and a weak, plain-jane story, but the director(s) gave the movie a bold, awesome sense of scope that helped deliver on the action and spectacle we expect to see from Star Wars, while mostly achieving the goal of making it feel like a war film about sacrifice and inspiring hope. The one-dimensional characters and the mediocre story will always leave something to be desired, but still, if there was ever to be a more serious (but still fun) SW war film, at least in terms of style, ROGUE ONE is it.