Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is the beginning of a new series of films to be set in the Harry Potter universe. Set 70+ years before the events of those stories, we find new characters to connect to, and new threats to worry about. It’s fascinating to note that the only “basis” for this film is the fact that the title of the movie was a schoolbook in the Harry Potter universe. Furthermore, J.K. Rowling herself wrote the screenplay for this film, as there was no book to adapt it from. What results, is a mixed bag film that you’ll have to determine whether it lives up to the Harry Potter legacy.
On one hand, there’s the main character, Newt Scamander. A former student of Hogwarts who’s out in the world collecting and protecting the magical creatures that inhabit it. As well as ensure that they’re documented so that his fellow wizards are made aware of their beauty, and are allowed to live freely. Newt is nothing like Harry Potter, and that’s great! While he’s destined for greatness in his own way, he’s not a “chosen one” or anything like that. He’s just a guy with a goal and love of magical animals.
When his journey brings him to New York however, a run-in with a Muggle/Anti-Mag called Jacob Kowalski accidentally causes a lot of his creatures to be released into the city. This leads to a flurry of adventures, but not all are good.
To be honest, if they had focused on just Newt and Jacob trying to collect these magical creatures, it would’ve been a great film on its own. For me, the best parts of the film involved the magical creatures. In Harry Potter, we only got small glimpses at the larger magical world in regards to creatures. Dragons, Hippogriffs, mermaids, all were welcome. But with Fantastic Beasts, we got beyond that, and it’s beautiful. I could spend an eternity in the briefcase of Newt’s where he houses the creatures and likely not grow bored. And even just the lengths Newt had to go to in order to return the creatures to the briefcase was some of the best parts of the film.
But then, we had the dark wizard story, and the muggle story, and it just clashed for me. We’re introduced to several characters that add layers to the story, but they don’t all work. While Tina, a former Auror who’s desperate to be noticed again, works great with Newt and Jacob personality wise, when we meet Graves, another Auror, or the Second Salem Society, it get really dark, and needlessly so.
It’s not surprising that the tone is there because of the later Harry Potter films, all of which were directed by David Yates. However, it’s important to remember, that Sorcerer’s Stone, and even Chamber of Secrets, weren’t very dark at numerous points. Only towards the end did it get dark, and that’s important to note. Because there was a buildup to the darkness, whereas here, it’s thrust upon us in the hopes we’ll get it.
Which brings me to the other problem, inconsistencies in the plot and what we’re told. Newt is blamed for occurrences that are happening in New York, and acknowledges that in part. However, he’s almost immediately killed based on the word of Graves. No trial, no sentencing, nothing. How does Graves have that power and authority? We’re honestly told nothing about him outside of him being an Auror. So how is it he has the power to sentence people to death?
Then there’s the case of beasts itself, how is it that only a certain amount of creatures got out? Also, it’s shown multiple times that a creature got out, was seen by Newt, yet wasn’t retrieved in the film. Did he just give up? Oh, and if he was expelled from Hogwarts, how does he still have his wand? Hagrid lost his after getting expelled, why not him?
Other characters and their motivations are paper thin at best, and some characters are just pointless. At one point, a character was shown to have a major grievance with his father and brother, but no explanation as to why. His whole point is to introduce a group that would later kill his brother. Really? That’s it?
Finally, a big “redo” scene at the end casts a lot of questions on the events of the film. A key death for example seems to have been negated, but it doesn’t make sense that it would have given the context of the death and the characters importance. It’s the lack of details that will no doubt confuse both veterans of the Harry Potter world and newcomers alike.
A big twist at the end does help set up a sequel, and make sense of some of what was going on, but not all. It doesn’t save the secondary plot, nor help with the characters themselves. I was surprised to be sure, but that only goes so far.
I’m torn as I think about the score. Because on one hand, I really liked the quartet of characters we’re given, and they work well together. The magical creatures were great, and many scenes had me laughing. But the dark plot that tried to eclipse it just felt hollow, and needless. Because of that, I honestly need to give it a lower score.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I saw it, and it was a good film, but it just wasn’t great.