Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review
When I first encountered J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise I was a bit skeptical about it. On paper it sounded like a magic infused retelling of Star Wars, you know with the whole chosen one and good versus evil motifs, but after watching the first film I was hooked. I’ve never read the books, and I’m sure they’re even better, but by the last Potter film I had become a big fan and appreciated the narrative, even if it is overly similar to the Skywalker Saga if it were set in Middle-Earth. The characters and world are all now iconic, so when I first heard that Rowling would be revisiting the world of Harry Potter with a prequel series, my interests naturally piqued.
This new series kicked off last week with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is set many years before the Potter books, and features a new lead wizard by the name of Newt Scamander, who is expertly brought to life by Eddie Redmayne. It is the first entry in a planned five film series, so its main purpose is to set the stage for things moving forward. It is set in the 1920’s in New York City, so it provides a whole new era to explore to find out how wizards and witches dealt with their powers after going into hiding out of fear of being burnt at the stake by No-Majes of the time. In particular, we get to see how America deals with its magical humans rather than London thanks to the setting change, and as it turns out the MACUSA–America’s magical governing body–is pretty damn strict on how wizards and witches must conduct themselves.
It’s these stricter stances on using magic, working with magical creatures, and even who you can partner with in America that sets the stage for Beasts’ plot. Newt Scamander is an English wizard who comes to America to continue his studies on magical creatures, which are becoming outlawed all over the world. It’s this ban and general misunderstanding of magical creatures that drives Newt to do what he does, because his main goal is to study these types of creatures to show to his fellow wizards and witches that they’re not evil and destructive, but can be used for good. Newt’s love of his creatures is what makes him such an intriguing character to watch, so he’s definitely a worthy replacement for Harry, and is a lovable quirky dude to get to know, so again Redmayne earned his pay in brining him to life.
Without giving too much plot away I can’t mention much more about Beasts’ story, but it definitely feels very Rowling-like, and that should carry enough weight to be taken very seriously by Potter fans. While there are a few nods to characters we’ve met before, this film mostly sticks to weaving an entirely new tale set in the Potterverse complete with a super villain, and of course the lovable good guys and girls hellbent on stopping him. All of the friends Newt meets along the way are just as entertaining and exciting as him, so while the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermoine will always be Potter royalty, the new cast of heroes definitely makes a case for being a stellar JV squad in Potter lore.
Personally I found the No-Maj Jacob Kowalski to be a standout new character, as well as Queenie Goldstein, who both steal more than a few scenes with their dialogue and physical expressions. It’s these little nuances that makes the world and characters of Beasts feel so authentic even though the subject material is so fantastical. Speaking of which, there are plenty of eye pleasing special effects thanks to the magic the heroes and villains can cook up, and I found magic to be even more on display than what we were treated to in the Harry led films. You definitely get a better idea just how powerful wizards and witches can be, and what happens when they’re forced to keep their powers bottled up due to the fear of being discovered by No-Majes. Let’s just say that you’ll meet a new magical being that makes Dementors look like puppy dogs.
The dynamic of Newt and his creatures, which definitely provide more than a few comedic moments and action set pieces, the MACUSA’s policies on wizards and witches and No-Majes, and the fear of an ominous dark wizard all come together to make Beasts a great kickoff film for Rowling’s new series. It does a fantastic job at laying the groundwork for the rest of the films, while also tying up its own plot nicely, which includes a pretty big reveal at the end that I definitely didn’t see coming. It made me yearn for more, which is all you can ask of a movie that is charged with setting the framework for more to follow. I have no real complaints outside of maybe hoping for a few more direct ties to the Potter films, but it appears we will eventually get those ties in the next four entries.
It’s refreshing to experience new themes, characters, and locations from the mind of Rowling, because she–at least in my lowly eyes–has now become one of the greatest modern storytellers of our time, and one of the best fantasy writers in decades. While I may have been rough on her during the Potter years due to my belief that she just repurposed the Skywalker Saga in a fantasy world, I now respect her greatly and appreciate all that she has dreamed up. We need more artists like her, because films like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are the perfect escapes from a world that is always in a state of flux. If you need to get away for a few hours I can’t think of anything better than a screening of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so take advantage of the holiday and head out to a theater with family and friends to enjoy a satisfying movie going experience.
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Review Statement: The author of this review paid for a 3D screening of the movie for the purposes of this review.