The Harry Potter franchise is back in this first installment of a prequel franchise, Fantastic Beast and Where To Find Them. This films focuses of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an English wizard who comes to New York in the 1920s with a case packed full magical creatures. After a mishap with a muggle called Kowalski (Dan Fogler) some of them get loose. Meanwhile a shadowy force is causing desolation and damage across the city causing some anti witch sentiment from a group called the Second-Salemers.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on, that’s because there is. I don’t think that Rowling, as the writer, and Yates, as the director, really knew what they wanted this film to be. It’s a very convoluted story, with several different aspects all crammed into the one film. There’s the story that follows Newt attempting to reclaim his Beasts that have gotten loose. There is also the shadowy force that is attacking people. This story in more connected to the political strife owing to the action of the dark wizard Grindelwald. The real problem with all the stories is the differences in tone. The parts with Newt and his Beasts feel far more lighthearted than the other storylines, which contain child abuse and political strife.
The parts of Fantastic Beasts with Newts creatures are the real stand out moments of the film. They are what capture the magic of the Potter world so well. The scenes where we dive into Newt’s suitcase are so wonderful and that’s what gives the sense of magic that we all got watching the original films. This is what Rowling does really well, and that’s the strongest part of her work as a screenwriter as well. She creates this magical world and gives us some of the great things that we’re missed from the Potter films. The Niffler is hilarious, the sequences with him are great fun, the Bowtruckle is very cute as well, and the Erumpent sequence offers some good physical comedy from both Redmayne and Fogler.
Whereas the rest of the film and it’s darker tone tries to create far more global stakes with the whole world being at stake. We are thrown hints about Grindelwald who is meant to be a Voldemort level threat to the entire world. Honestly this just clashed with the smaller scale story of the Beasts. It’s very clear that there is a hope to set up another series within the Harry Potter franchise, and there’s a big reveal (one that’s incredibly obvious from very early on) towards the end of the film that is going to have a big impact on the future films, although to be honest doesn’t have me particularly excited. I do wish they had given Newt a more stand alone adventure rather than wrapping it up with the Grindelwald saga.
But it has to be said Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is great. He is essentially playing himself with magical powers, but Redmayne has that kind of awkward charm to him that makes Newt such a likeable protagonist. The supporting cast is strong as well. Katherine Waterston as former Auror Tina, Alison Sudol as her sister Queenie, and Fogler’s Kowalski all bring different dynamics to the central group of four and work well with each other, including a hilariously awkward dinner scene.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them isn’t a bad film. In fact there are parts of it that are great. It just doesn’t all come together for me. Redmayne is a very likeable lead, and the sequences with the magical creatures really are magical. I wish it hadn’t been held back by the need to create another huge series. Fantastic Beasts is worth watching if you’re a fan of Harry Potter, but for me the Fantastic Beasts series needs to decide what it wants to be now.