Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is directed by David Yates and is a continuation of the beloved Harry Potter series. It stars Eddie Redmayne as the magic zoologist Newt Scamander who travels to New York City in the 1920’s with a suitcase full of magical creatures on his global expedition of discovery. However, when some of his monsters escape, he must team up with the American witch Tina (Katherine Waterson) and a muggle named Kowalski (Dan Fogler) in order to catch all of his beasts and also dodge the American Magical Congress; all while a more dark and sinister plot is uncovered.
I will admit that I am ill-equipped to objectively review this film. As a massive fan of the entire Harry Potter franchise, I must separate my love of the series from the newly released movie; a very difficult task. However, in a sense, I don’t even need to accomplish it. The vast majority of people who want to see this movie are people like me who love the series and will look at the movie through rose-colored glasses. So if this film has some glaring issues that I am blind to as a fan of the series, then so be it. I absolutely adore Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and had more fun watching it than any other this I have seen this year.
The best thing this movie does right is that it expands the universe of the franchise without using the original Harry Potter films as a crutch. Take the Star Wars prequels, for example. George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars film series, crammed as many references to the original trilogy as possible into those films so as not to alienate the fans and created a series that relied solely on nostalgia to make the audience like the films. Lucky for us, Fantastic Beasts contains no fan service at all, allowing itself to blossom into its own entity. It focuses solely on building up its own universe of the American Wizarding World, one in which the film makes me yearn to see more. This movie builds its universe well, as one that feels different and is entrenched in its 1920’s time period and style.
In regards to tone, this film is a breath of fresh air for the series. As the Harry Potter series advanced, it became less whimsical and more dark, serious, and entrenched in the turmoil of its characters, a trend fitting for an audience that matures alongside the series. However, as good and necessary as that aforementioned trend was, this film is refreshing, returning to the fun adventure of early Harry Potter films. It’s funnier, more energetic, more whimsical and more imaginative than any other Harry Potter films because of its array of creative and memorable beasts. However, this vibrant and refreshed tone is slightly to its detriment, as the film takes stark breaks from the exciting and massively entertaining plot of Newt and his crew to focus on the darker, more serious, and slightly less interesting underlying plot. This second plot isn’t bad, but when the film focuses on it, it leaves the audience waiting to return to the, for lack of a better term, “fun parts.”
Another one of the film’s strong suits is its characters. Everyone performs well, especially Dan Fogler’s Kowalski, who is one of the many highlights in the film. However, there are some noticeable character problems, such as missing character beats, a lack of completely explicit character arcs, and a romantic side plot that while very enjoyable does feel a tad superfluous. However, these aspects would probably annoy me more in other movies, considering how damn fun and watchable this film is, and they wouldn’t bother anyone else anyway because as a critic, it is my job to notice and judge these things. Storywise, it is an endlessly engaging and entertaining feature, with clever, funny writing and a couple of exciting twists and turns.
Once again though, the film falters a bit, with a side plot involving an anti-witch organization and a politician that kind of trails off out of existence, a sudden and unbuilt up twist, and an all-too convenient resolution. But for whatever reason, none of these bother me, and I doubt that they will bother many others, especially huge fans of the series. This film is just so fun to watch, so memorable in its scenes, and so riveting and refreshing in its execution. It makes me feel like the original Harry Potter films made us all feel (that is until people started dying and the weather was always gloomy). It makes me want to be a wizard again; it makes me want to live in their world and pal around on their adventures. I hope the sequels fix some of the problems I have mentioned here, but until then, I am overly content with this film. Its endless whimsical, creative, and all around nostalgic Harry Potter feel left me laughing upon leaving the theater and smiling while I write this. Although objectively it is flawed, what it made me feel and experience was more important, and I’m sure other fans will agree. I will give Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and A-.
By Sam Finbury