Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ Is Not Quite Fantastic

Victoria Stuewe ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant Movies Editor

Fifteen years after the release of the first Harry Potter film and five years after the finale, the Wizarding World is back in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Harry Potter fans have been highly anticipating this film since the announcement, ecstatic to go back to the magical world. Now, the wait is over, as a new saga, directly from the mind of J.K. Rowling herself, is finally released worldwide.

Fantastic Beasts follows Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an eccentric wizard who is fascinated by the magical creatures that live in hiding from the Muggle world. With a suitcase full of rescued forbidden magical creatures, he travels to America, where he encounters a bigger adventure than he bargained for.

He first meets Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a Muggle—or, No-Maj, as it’s called in America—who is accidentally exposed to the magical world due to an escaped Niffler, one of Scamander’s rescued creatures. With this new information, Jacob runs away, but not before accidentally taking Scamander’s suitcase full of magical creatures with him. Not knowing of the bag-switch, Jacob opens the suitcase, which releases some of the magical creatures that Scamander worked so hard to find.

Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Before Scamander discovers this mishap, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a former Auror, arrests him, since he neglected to erase Jacob’s knowledge of the magical world. Unfortunately, this peaks the interest of Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), who thinks that Scamander is trying to break the Statute of Secrecy, a law that prohibits No-Majs from being allowed to know the secrets of the Wizarding World.

Fantastic Beasts is packed with ideas, to say the least. It’s really three or four films in one due to its many conflicts and subplots. Because of this, some rather interesting plots were left underdeveloped and unexplored. There’s so much going on in the film that it’s difficult to tell what will be explored later in the series and what will start and end in Fantastic Beasts. This unfortunate and frequent occurrence made the film, at times, feel unbalanced with its coverage of storylines.

This was most disappointing when one of the most intriguing storylines—revolving around a lonely and abused teenager named Credence (Ezra Miller)—was not as fully realized as other plotlines that were not nearly as enticing. He was complex and conflicted, and he brought mystery and darkness into the film. The problem is, he was only used as a subplot, which merely scratched the surface on his character and the magnitude of his story. Unfortunately, viewers have no real closure and more questions than answers.

Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

This, however, does not take away from the fact that Eddie Redmayne was a brilliant casting choice for Newt Scamander. Due to Redmayne’s famously unique and whimsical style of acting, he was perfect for the role of an awkward wizard who wholeheartedly loves his creatures. Redmayne’s excellent performance is showcased through Scamander’s range from full elation to utter pain.

With this in mind, it’s still a little disappointing that there is no true introduction to Scamander’s history. On the surface, the film may seem like an origin story for Scamander. However, Fantastic Beasts really resembles a set-up film for what is to come in future installments. Instead of taking the time to focus on characters, the film relies heavily on its many plots, making the film not nearly as rich in depth as it could have been.

Yes, the magical world itself is fully preserved in Fantastic Beasts, as it is interwoven in every peculiar, magical creature. There are bits and pieces of film that are great and could have stood alone to create, as the title suggests, a fantastic film. However, the drawn out and intricate storytelling that makes the Harry Potter series special is not relayed into this film. Don’t worry, there is still hope for director David Yates‘ next installments, as this is obviously a set up for greater things in the future. But, as a stand-alone film, this does not quite compare to its predecessors set in the Wizarding World.

Overall Grade: B-

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