The Harry Potter series has helped define both the modern fantasy genre and helped kickstart virtually every Young Adult novel’s film adaptation into high gear. Even though it has been several years since the last movie within this universe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them feels like a mature step in the right direction for the franchise while simultaneously leaning on some very familiar tropes found in the original series.
Now this doesn’t make Fantastic Beasts feel like a bad movie, but it does weigh the plot down and creates a fairly predictable script. However, despite its flaws, this is a movie that is fairly entertaining and worth the journey for any Harry Potter fan.
Directed by David Yates, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows the story of British wizard and magical animal conservationist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) during his journey to America. After literally the laziest plot device in history, Newt’s near endless suitcase of critters is opened, allowing a bunch of his beasts to run loose in New York City. It then comes down to Newt and his new muggle friend Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to track them down before they send the entire city into a panic. Along with this is a subplot about a dark entity sweeping through the city and killing normal people with disgraced wizard cop Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) trying to solve the case.
While Newt’s story is the main focus for the majority of the film it’s actually Lou’s narrative arc that’s the most interesting. Sure, seeing all the whimsical creatures is cute and funny, but there is never any substance to his own story. Newt just prattles on about how humans are the most dangerous species, but it never evolves beyond that simplistic message. There aren’t any big revelations or character defining moments as he is pretty much the same person from beginning to end.
Now that doesn’t mean Redmayne’s performance is a bad one, far from it actually. There are a lot of interesting ticks and social anxiety based moments around Newt that make him feel like a far different hero than Harry Potter. He isn’t trying to be the hero or save the day but is pretty much forced into a scenario where he is required to help. This allows Newt to feel more likable and makes his character far more interesting to watch, which only makes his lack of actual exploration disappointing.
The brunt of the major character arcs comes from Lou, who is perhaps far more interesting of a lead due to her feeling far more mature. There’s a lot of tragedy and hope with this woman, as Yates does a fantastic job of giving us just enough details to form our own conclusion. She’s tied up with an anti-witch, Salem-esc group that is trying to convince the good citizens of New York that wizards exist. It’s these cultural; differences and how she reacts within them that makes her an infinitely more appealing character than Newt. Lou acts as a driving force for a lot of the major scenes and Samantha Morton’s performance of her is utterly fantastic.
For the rest of supporting cast, they do well, though the major issue lies with the actual anti-wizard family who feels as if they stumbled in from the wrong century. Don’t get me wrong the concept of small cults springing up tp try and prove wizards are real is genuinely an interesting idea that should have been explored, except in Fantastic Beasts it feels sidelined at times because Newt needs to go find more animals. If they were given more time to breathe and explore their perspective of the wizarding community more it could have made for an exceptionally engaging plot. Yet, this isn’t the case because Newt is our main character despite him having the least interesting or impactful story.
Even the story of the muggle who’s been thrust into this entire magical affair is more compelling than Newts. This is mainly thanks to Fogler’s fantastic performance and spot-on comedic timing with the rest of his co-stars. It’s rare that we as the viewers get a conduit to explore this world, as every previous movie invests us in characters that are already fully involved with the magic world (Yes, even Harry after the first movie). Kowalski is something new and by the end of the movie I have no doubt a few tears will be shed at his expense.
Speaking of cultural differences, one of the most interesting aspects actually has to do with the differences between the wizarding community in the United States and the United Kingdom. Outside of simple language changes, it’s interesting to see how Prohibition Era has affected both humans and magic users alike. We rarely get to explore other cultures within the Harry Potter world, so getting a glimpse behind what its like at other places is interesting. Not to mention the paranoia that Amercian wizards have of being discovered, is an interesting contrast to Britains more laid back approach to muggles. It helps the general world building of the film, which helps it not feel like a complete retread of the original movies.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them isn’t a terrible movie, but it’s not the pinnacle of the Potter franchise either. While this film at times feels as if it was ripped straight from the pages of someone’s fan fiction, it’s the wonderful side characters and world that make it worth returning to. The only problem we foresee is how they’re going to manage to make more films about the least interesting character in the entire movie. Well, hopefully, the inclusion of Johnny Depp will liven things up… maybe.
- US vs. UK Culture Differences
- Generally Solid Acting
- Mary Lou’s Story
- Newt’s Story is Utterly Uninteresting
- Plot Hits a Lull During the Second Act