“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is the latest film from Warner Bros. Studios and expands upon the universe that was first created by the Harry Potter film franchise. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell and Katherine Waterson, Fantastic Beasts is an enjoyable film that successfully brings back the look and feel of the Harry Potter universe.
“Fantastic Beasts” takes place roughly 80 years before the events of the Harry Potter series and stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, a Hogwarts expellee, who has spent his career researching magical creatures in order for the wizarding world to better understand them.
Scamander brings the various creatures he’s researched and captured to America from Britain via a magical suitcase. After a mixup with “no-maj” (non-magical person), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the creatures are released in New York City. Scamander, along with Kowalski, track down and recapture the creatures before the non-magical community becomes aware of their existence.
First off, “Fantastic Beasts” is able to revive effectively the look and feel of the Harry Potter world. The music, the sights, the mythos — all of it are masterfully recreated and presented to the audience to absorb and experience. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling wrote the script herself, and she proves that she hasn’t run out of ideas regarding her beloved wizarding world.
This film works best when Redmayne and Fogler are on screen together. Redmayne’s Scamander is very matter of fact, socially awkward and extremely object oriented. He acts without regard to secrecy, which puts him in the position of potentially outing the existence of magic.
It is through Fogler’s Kowalski that we get the perspective of non-magical humans. Kowalski is constantly in awe, surprise and confusion while seeing Scamander using magic. The two often have very comedic moments while on screen together, with Scamander using magic to solve a problem and Kowalski reacting with sheer bewilderment.
Colin Farrell and Katherine Waterston play Percival Graves and Tina Goldstein, respectively. Both work for the Magical Congress of the United States, a governmental agency that oversees magic and magical users and creatures.
Tina joins Scamander and Kowalski in their efforts to capture the magical creatures after initially opposing them. Graves is a high-level member of the Magical Congress who is tracking down a powerful young magic user and, in his search, eventually crosses paths with Scamander and his efforts.
It is with Graves’ storyline that my issues with the film mostly lie. His storyline feels like it is tacked on in order to set up sequels rather than further the plot of the film. The film spends most of its first half chronicling Scamander and Kowalski’s efforts to track down creatures of various sizes, abilities and temperaments. It is a fun film that really displays the ingenuity of Scamander and shows why it is better to make an effort to understand the things we don’t, rather than attack them.
The film diverges into a story about a secretly powerful wizard, and the tone then shifts from a fun exploration to a dark neo-thriller. It is as if the film is trying to tell two stories that warrant their own full feature film. Neither story on its own is inherently bad, but neither story is given enough time to fully develop in this film, and thus the film doesn’t get the ability to adequately present its message.
I think “Fantastic Beasts” would have been better if it had focused on just showing Scamander’s efforts in capturing the various creatures that were set loose in New York City. The real suspense would have been derived from the non-magical community finding out about magic and exploring the discovery’s ramifications. Instead, the film devolved into telling a story that would yield results in future films, rather than giving the audience the best narrative in this one.
Again, that is not to say that “Fantastic Beasts” is bad. It is far from a bad film. I believe that die hard Harry Potter fans will love it. It does a great job of exploring the world that Harry Potter will one day occupy. The visual effects are mostly great, which help to bring people back into the world of magic, and the magical fights seem more dynamic than in the previous Harry Potter films. The music is very reminiscent of the original films and again helps Harry Potter fans to feel at home while watching “Fantastic Beasts.”
The only other negative criticism I have of the film is the depiction of goblins. “Fantastic Beasts” uses visual effects to display goblin characters, while the original Harry Potter films used actual actors in makeup. This created a bit of a dissonance for me while watching the film, and at times the goblins’ effects fell into the uncanny valley.
Overall, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a mostly fun watch that recaptures the escapism that the original Harry Potter films were able to generate. At times the film tries to tell too much and would be better if it focused more on a single storyline, but the film is at no point terrible. The result of this film is that it leaves the future of the franchise looking promising.
I give “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” 7.5 out of 10.