Bennett Fort ’19
This Review Has No Spoilers
Ahh, what a wonderful day it is. The Wizarding World that I grew up loving so much is back. However, it’s not back in the way most fans expected (me included). The one thing I want to iterate in this review is that Fantastic Beasts is NOT A HARRY POTTER MOVIE. And me being me, believe that that’s not a bad thing. The movie itself doesn’t need to rely on Harry Potter to be as good as it is. And it is very, very good.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them revolves around a wizard by the name of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) coming to New York City in the year 1926. However, Newt is actually a magizoologist who is keeping and caring for a number of different “fantastic beasts” within a suitcase that he always carries with him. While in NYC, Newt comes across a No-Maj, or muggle to most British wizards, by the name of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Jacob is pulled along on this journey after he is responsible for the opening of Newt’s suitcase and therefore, the escape of a few of the “fantastic beasts.” Newt and Jacob also befriend two sisters, Porpentina –Tina– (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie Goldenstein (Alison Sudol), who are MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) employees. Together, the four go hunting for the magical beasts who escaped from Newt’s suitcase. On the side, there is also head auror of MACUSA, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) who is hunting down some sort of creature on the loose within the city. Graves is also working with a boy named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) who is the adopted son of a woman who leads a group called the Second Salemers, who want to persecute and kill witches and wizards within America. Graves and Credence’s actions are unknown for a fair portion of the movie but are critical to the story as a whole. The screenplay is penned by J.K. Rowling, meaning it is an original work of hers. The grasp she has of the world she created back in 1997 carries through to this movie. I an still in shock and awe of the imagination she has to create such a detailed world with all these wondrous creatures and people. I won’t reveal anything more than the basic plot just to keep the secrets of the major reveals that occur during the movie.
The characters are, for the most part, fairly developed and each has a distinct feature that makes them likable or cause for attention. Eddie Redmayne plays the socially awkward Newt, who has ambition to show the wizarding world that not all magical creatures are bad. Redmayne nails the socially awkward side of Newt, and also shows an actual care for the creatures he keeps and for the people around him. Katherine Waterston plays the arrogant, yet smart Tina Goldstein fairly well. Most reviews say that she wasn’t that likable, but I feel that her growth over the course of the film changed her from being unlikeable at the beginning, to pretty likeable by the end. Fogler’s Kowalski is more of comedy relief than an actual character at certain points, but at others, he is likeable just because of the way his character is, instead of what he does being funny. Sudol’s Queenie is one of the best characters in the movie just because of her charm and general demeanor. Queenie is also a legilimens, meaning she can read minds, which makes for a number of funny moments, but also a number of somber ones. I also particularly enjoyed Ezra Miller’s performance as the inward, and sometimes disturbed Credence. But that enjoyment mostly came from the fact that I enjoy any role played by Miller (can’t wait for The Flash). However, there are a few underdeveloped characters, most of which I won’t mention, just to keep away from spoilers. One of the characters is Colin Farrell’s mysterious Graves. He’s likeable just because of how mysterious he is, but he is under-utilized and also underdeveloped in his motivations (that is, until the end of the movie). For the most part though the characters are pretty developed, even though, to me, they aren’t as memorable as the three friends in Harry Potter, but those friends had seven books and eight movies to grow on me. I’m sure the main characters will become more and more memorable over course of the next four movies in the series.
Earlier, I explained the basic plot of the movie to give the reader a general idea of what the movie is about. Now, the plot of the hunting down of the “fantastic beasts” is a pretty good one with its enjoyable parts being some of the most enjoyable sequences of the entire movie. However, there is another, much darker sub-plot that makes up the other parts of the movie. This sub-plot is still fairly enjoyable, but lacks the enjoyable sequences of the main plot in the film. Also, the dark tone of this plot is even darker than some of the stuff in the Harry Potter movies meaning that parts of this movie are very, very different from the main tone of the movie. This extreme tonal shift at points is my biggest, and pretty much only problem I have with the movie.
Moving on, two weeks ago, I reviewed Doctor Strange, which itself was visually stunning. Now, while this movie has its fair share of scenes that are visual marvels–most of which involve the beasts that Newt keeps within his case– the film is nowhere near as amazing and wondrous as some of the scenes in Doctor Strange. However, as I already said, the beasts are as fantastic as the title lets on. One particular “fantastical” scene involves showing the sheer scale of the interior of Newt’s case and the astounding creatures that live within it. The final battle is also particularly beautiful, but I won’t spoil why.
Now, the film is not without its problems. However, me being the Wizarding World fan that I am, found these problems to be miniscule in the grand scheme of the film. You see, I don’t watch Wizarding World movies like I watch normal movies. I watch them to experience the sheer wonder that comes from that world of magic and wizards. So, a problem in a movie like this is more of a problem to a normal film reviewer, than with me, a massive Harry Potter fan. That, being said, I can see where some of these reviewers are coming from. At points, the film does seem more like it’s trying to set up the sequels than actually just being its own thing. However, the setting up isn’t the entire movie, and just a few sequences that are few and far between. Also, some view the fact that this movie is not like Harry Potter as a problem, but I view it as a plus. The film doesn’t need to reference and call back to Harry Potter just to be good. That being said, there are a few references to the other franchise, but those references are woven into the film and don’t abruptly stop the pacing just to remind you that there is another franchise that you all love (I’m looking at you Ghostbusters 2016). That’s about it with the problems I have with the movie. A few setup scenes here and there don’t matter as much to me as much as they do to others.
Now I’m going to take this time to provide one final warning about the movie: It’s not a Harry Potter movie. Don’t go in expecting it be like the Harry Potter movies. While the comedy is similar to the HP movies, it is outweighed by a very different tone from that of the other franchise. The movie itself seems more adult and larger in scale. Harry Potter is about teenagers and this one is about adults dealing with things in the real world and not messing around half the time in between classes at school. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t “like” Harry Potter. It still exists within the same universe as the other movies and there are spells that are the exact same ones used in the other franchise. They also talk about Hogwarts and Albus Dumbledore at points so you know it still lives within the same world and that these stories are interconnected. However, the story itself has little to do with the other franchise and that’s what I like about it: It is it’s own thing and will continue to be for the next four films. One thing that people who aren’t Wizarding World fans should know is that even though it doesn’t rely on events from the other movies, it does sometimes rely on the basic knowledge that one learns about magic through those movies. That means that some things aren’t explained to those who may not know what they are. I highly recommend, if you already haven’t, that you watch the other eight Harry Potter movies. Or even read some of the books because they will really help. Also, if you haven’t experienced Harry Potter before, I have one question for you: Have you been living under a rock?
So, in conclusion, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a worthy prequel to the Harry Potter franchise. While some may not see it as good as I do because of how different it is from the main franchise, I would still, highly recommend that you see it. I’m sure that massive Harry Potter fans like me will love it (just like I did) and I also hope that those of you who aren’t as well versed in the wizarding world will still find a way to let it creep its way into your mind. The movie, like the beasts it is named for, is truly fantastic and I can’t wait to see the journey of Newt, Tina, Queenie, and Jacob continue over the course of the next few years.