Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Spoiler Free Review
Harry Potter is a series that needs no introduction. A world wide phenomenon that was a defining part of an entire generation and continues to be an influencing force to this day. When the book series took the world by storm, author J.K. Rowling expanded the universe by penning some of the most memorable books in the world of Harry Potter. One of the more notable ones was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a textbook that Harry and company studied as they learned more about the creatures that also occupied the wizarding world. It’s with no great surprise that Warner Bros. wanted to continue making that HP money and that they would then turn to the one book that could help them expand the pre-existing universe. So, how do the newest addition to Rowling’s wizard universe fair? Honestly, it truly depends on how much of a Harry Potter fan you are.
Fantastic Beasts stars Eddie Redmayne as the titular character, Newt Scamander, author of the book in question. He comes to New York with a case full of creatures, supposedly in search of one particular creature that is incredibly rare and hard to find. What he finds instead is a post WWI America gripped in fear as the dark wizard Grindelwald continues to terrorize the magical community. What has resulted is a rigid and fierce wizard community that will not stand for anyone putting their world in danger or exposing them to the no-maj (American for muggle). Of course, a series of unfortunate events and some bumbling on Newt’s behalf unleashes a handful of beasts on the unsuspecting city of New York, but none of them are nearly as dangerous as the magical creature that is already running amok in the shadows.
“So, how do the newest addition to Rowling’s wizard universe fair? Honestly, it truly depends on how much of a Harry Potter fan you are.”
Director David Yates is no slouch when it comes to the world of Harry Potter having directed the entire back half of the film series. He leaps back into the world with great zest, wholeheartedly enjoying being able to fully showcase the magical world without needing to see through the eyes of a child or having to introduce us to it. Banking on the majority of the audience being the kids who grew up reading Harry Potter, the film is darker and more violent than any of the Harry Potter films on their own and makes use of what is sure to be a more mature audience. Fantastic Beasts succeeds wholeheartedly in capturing both the whimsy of Harry Potter while setting itself apart as a brand new series.
They do this, as you may have guessed, by incorporating the other major character that had nothing to do with the original series – Grindelwald. If you have seen the trailers for Fantastic Beasts, you’re probably wondering, as I did, how they plan to fill two plus hours of time with Eddie Redmayne being charmingly befuddled. They do that by tying the events to Grindelwald’s reign of terror that fans will know plunges the wizarding world into war. The terror of the other greatest dark wizard of all time is a constant in the background of everything in the film and is obviously going to be the backbone of the new series.
The film itself, though, seems to be caught in between appeasing the loyal fan base and drawing in new viewers. If you look at the numbers, there really isn’t many ’new viewers’ to be drawn in as I’m fairly certain that everyone you have ever known has seen or read Harry Potter. However, the Potter films have never hit the absurd heights of other franchises and there are certainly still casual viewers to be roped in. That’s where things get slippery for Fantastic Beasts. The film succeeds by drawing on the rich and deep history that Rowling has penned over nearly two decades and not needing to do as much world building as a new franchise should. However, it’s that very same reliance on the audience being familiar with the material that makes the film seem shallow and makes it a bit of a tough sell.
I went with a friend who would be considered more of a casual fan of Potter, while I would fall more into the hardcore camp. As we discussed the film afterwards, she was full of questions and had many more complaints about what we had seen simply because she wasn’t as well versed as I was. Even as I explained, I had to acknowledge that I was digging pretty deep into my Potter knowledge to come up with answers for her and that is a bit of a problem.
“Let me be clear about something. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an excellent film that is going to be a great trip to the theatre whether you go by yourself, with a group of friends, with a group of Potter nerds, or with your family.”
Yates also succumbs to a problem that befalls many directors that have hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal – they want to use them all. The effects in the film are wonderful and the fantastic beasts are all beautiful, weird, odd and wondrous. However, the climatic magical showdown turns into a near Michael Bay level of effects usage that, quite frankly, was pretty boring. Yeah, I’ve seen buildings blow up before, can we have some cool wand battles? Then the wand battles came and Yates seemed to have forgotten about his Order of the Phoenix sequences cause even these battles turned out to be bland and, well, sadly, quite boring too.
Let me be clear about something. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an excellent film that is going to be a great trip to the theatre whether you go by yourself, with a group of friends, with a group of Potter nerds, or with your family. It’s charming, it’s fun and it sets up an entire new franchise that we are going to get to enjoy. However, it also is primarily used to set up a new franchise and fails to dig deep in the run time allotted. As a fan that is well versed in his knowledge of the source material, I was truly appreciative of the Easter eggs, references and nods to the iconic Harry Potter series. I would love to give this a higher rating as it filled me with glee, it made me openly laugh to a point of embarrassment and it filled me with a sense of wonder which my cold, blackened heart hasn’t felt since last time I entered the Potter-verse. However, as an objective film goer, I have to temper my score. If you’ve paused and been even the slightest bit confused about what I’ve said in this review, than I give you fair warning that you will more than likely feel the same in the theatre.
If you can’t tell me why the three brothers in The Tale of Beetle Bard are important, chances are that you may find that there is a certain je ne c’est quoi about the film that left you wanting more. On the other hand, if you can name each part of Harry’s wand without thinking, you’re going to feel right at home in your seat.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them lands in theatres this weekend. Go check it out!
- Wonderful return to Rowlings world of wizards
- Fun, funny, charming and full of magic
- Sets up a new series of films
- Relies on pre-existing Potter knowledge
- Climax goes over the top on the action