Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them premiered in theaters worldwide on November 18th. The following review contains spoilers.
J.K. Rowling has made good on her promise: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them delivers a wide variety of new magical creatures that make the Harry Potter universe bigger, richer and more appealing than ever. If you add up a brand new setting, characters, and a bigger focus on the history of the wizarding world, Fantastic Beasts feels more like a stand-alone story than just a prequel to Harry Potter.
In fact, that might as well be the main attraction of Fantastic Beasts. We are no longer restricted to schools, teenagers, or the threat of You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters. The story taking place in a new setting (New York, 1926) is not only refreshing, but it also helps give more exposure to some dark themes that had always been present in JKRowling’s work. Mainly, discrimination. From the abusive, hateful Salemites, to Jacob’s problems opening his bakery due to lack of money, Fantastic Beasts takes social and political context more seriously than Potter ever did. I’m also pretty sure it’s no coincidence that this more mature story happens just as the original audience of Harry Potter enter the adult world.
A big part of engaging in a story is caring about its characters. While being very adorable with his beasts, Newt’s not the best person to share a conversation with. Not because he’s got nothing interesting to say (he’s probably the most interesting character in the story), but because he’s not good at socializing. He’s like the Eleventh Doctor, but way more socially awkward. That’s not to say he’s a bad lead, at all. Newt is not Harry, but he’s equally as charismatic, and Eddie Redmayne does everything he can to put as much in his performance as possible. Considering this, it would have been a good idea to sacrifice one of the beast-catching scenes (some of them dragged) in favor of developing the relationship among Newt, Jacob, Tina and Queenie. Just like the scene when Jacob enters the Newt’s suitcase for the first time is all about the beasts, the dinner scene should have been all about the characters establishing some sort of friendship, rather than about Jacob (once again) being amazed at every magical thing he sees.
Speaking of Jacob (Dan Fogler), I’m glad that they decided to go with “awe”, and not just “comical” reactions. The idea of one of the main characters being a “no-maj” is an interesting one, and it does fit into the theme of conflict between no-majs and wizards. However, in a story that’s guaranteed to be full of magical battles, his role is limited as he would always be the one in danger. The division between wizards and muggles is one of the most interesting takeaways from this film and one that I wish to see more of in future movies. After all, this cohabitation was underdeveloped in Harry Potter, with the exception of Arthur Weasley’s fascination with muggles.
There are three different storylines in Fantastic Beasts: Newt’s team trying to catch the escaped beasts, the anti-witch family preaching their cause and abusing poor Credence (Ezra Miller), and Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) trying to catch the obscurial (perhaps the most interesting creature introduced). All of these plots are different in nature, some more urgent, others more light and entertaining. However, the quick editing cuts and tonal shifts from one storyline to another became a bit jarring, something David Yates was already at fault for in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. And while Harry Potter‘s story was already well-established by then, Fantastic Beasts is still in its presentation stage, so some of the direction choices were especially confusing. As a result, most of the movie felt slightly disjointed, and the plot didn’t quite find its footing until all the storylines converged at the end.
And the thing is, Fantastic Beasts ends just when it starts getting good with a promise of “there’s more to come”. And there certainly is. Dumbledore vs Grindelwald should be the most interesting bit in the sequels, and the inclusion of Johnny Depp should keep casual viewers interested. There is also some teasing in regards to Newt’s past in Hogwarts, his relationship with Dumbledore, and with the Lestrange family.
Fantastic Beasts has some pacing and directing problems, but I have to give credit where it’s due. It would have been very easy for J.K. Rowling to write a story that only focused on the magical creatures, but she made an effort to address new topics and expand the universe even further. Yes, there’s some references to Harry Potter, but it doesn’t completely rely on it to engage the audience. It’s completely possible to watch this movie without having seen a single Harry Potter movie (although not gonna lie – you will enjoy it way more as a Potterhead). The story of The Boy Who Lived might be finished, but this magical universe is far from being over.