Weekly Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

After a global expedition, Newt Scamander stops in New York City, carrying with him a briefcase full of magical creatures. When some of his creatures escape, Scamander stays longer than he intended, ultimately becoming a part of something much bigger that threatens both the magical and non-magical world.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first film of a new franchise set in the magical world of Harry Potter. With a screenplay written by J.K. Rowling and David Yates returning as director, it would seem that this movie would be a hit. It would seem that it would continue on with the magic that the original Harry Potter franchise had for its 8 film run.

Harry Potter was a very large part of my childhood. I read all of the books several times, and the movies added to that magic. When I heard that this new film was being made, I was interested, but as more information came out, I became more skeptical. By the time I heard that it was going to be a new franchise, I was actually a bit disappointed.

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There are many characters in the Harry Potter franchise, and I personally would have enjoyed seeing stories about them as a continuation. Rather than a new franchise, I would have enjoyed a film about Newt Scamander here, perhaps a film about Hagrid after that, or maybe a film about Regulus Black. Essentially, I like the route that Star Wars is taking with their stand alone stories. This new Fantastic Beasts franchise feels like something I never wanted and never asked for.

Despite my skeptical feelings about this film, I sat down expecting to enjoy Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The film really does play to the nostalgia factor. It’s interesting to see these characters in action, characters that you’ve heard of because of the history books at Hogwarts. The magical world that Rowling has created just has so many possibilities.

With that being said, this film really doesn’t stand out too well on its own. If you eliminate the nostalgia factor, the characters aren’t really that likable, the scenarios seem forced, and the visual effects don’t come across very well.

Starting with the characters, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) seems to be eccentric for eccentricity’s sake. Many questions about him go unanswered, which I felt really hindered him as a main character. If Scamander is supposed to be our hero, he shouldn’t be shrouded with mystery like an antagonist. On top of that, many of the other characters are under-utilized. Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston)  had potential as a lead character, but she didn’t really have staying power for me. It felt like she was just there. Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) was a decently compelling villain, complete with that antagonist mystery I mentioned above, but in the end, I had more questions than answers about his involvement.

For me, the best characters were Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a non-magic person who happens to get caught up in magical problems, and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), a talented legilimens or mind reader who also happens to be Tina’s sister. Both of these side characters really made the movie enjoyable for me. In addition, I will also mention Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), the adopted son of an anti-magic fanatic who is hiding some dark secrets. I was far more invested in the stories surrounding the side characters than the main story itself.

In terms of visual effects, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them definitely tries to be spectacular. There are loads of magical creatures and a briefcase that expands to hold it’s own little world. Other than some lighting issues with these effects, I thought they looked pretty great. My issue was when the actors would interact with the creatures. It just never seemed to fit. It didn’t seem real, magical or not. I’ve seen it done better in other films, and I was a tad disappointed that this one didn’t hold up as well.

There is definitely meaning within the story, specifically in regard to intolerance of difference, and I thought the film did a good job showing that. Some of the best parts within the story for me were the parts that were actually really sad. Unfortunately, the juxtaposition between the darker tones and the lighter ones didn’t always go over well for me. It feels too crowded, like it’s trying to cover too many things at once.

Overall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an average movie that is built up by nostalgia for a series that has been widely popular throughout most of the world. I enjoyed it, but if you were never a fan of the Harry Potter series, then I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t your thing either. It really doesn’t garner the same feeling as the series that started it all. Even as a Harry Potter fan, I don’t see myself adding it to my collection.

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