Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a movie that many decried as a clumsy cash grab aimed at Harry Potter fans. And while it may have been born in the spirit of capitalism, it was able to pull a solid and thoughtful plot with incredible world-building out of seemingly nowhere. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
The film centers around Newt Scamander circa 1926, a wizard from the UK who has come to the United States to free one of his magical creatures back to its native homeland. However, once he enter New York City, he switches briefcases with a muggle (or no-maj as they say in the States) named Jacob Kowalski who lets some of his magical creatures out. Scamander has to work with Kowalski, Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) employee Tina Goldstein and her psychic sister Queenie in order to get them back. Meanwhile MACUSA Auror Percival Graves is using a young man named Credence Barebone to try and find an Obscurial, a magic person who suppresses their magical ability until it becomes a force in its own right that attacks people. The time constraint here is that an Obscurial will die within a decade because of the force of their powers.
I am going to try and remain spoiler-free because I do think the revelation adds to the emotional impact of the story. Let’s just say, there is an aspect of the story that seems minor, but ultimately ends up being incredibly emotional and tragic. I, and everyone I know, went into this movie thinking this was just going to be a fun little round-up-the-beasts movie with some political undertones to set up the Grindelwald conflict. The second and third acts get dark very quickly, especially when you found out how wizards execute people, and from there the film really soars.
I don’t think J.K. Rowling is a particularly good screenwriter because there are plotholes a-plenty. But if you’re familiar with her work, you know how she get pull your heartstrings and she does so here to great effect. She also wrote some excellent characters to take us through the new storyline. Newt is awkward and soft-spoken but his love of animals is endearing. Extra kudos here to Eddie Redmayne because he basically had to act to a blank green screen and he does a remarkable job with his expressions and mannerisms.
Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein is the kind of kickass female protagonist — one who is excellent at what they do without sacrificing vulnerability and empathy. Her sister Queenie, played by Alison Sudol was a delight, though she doesn’t get a lot of screen time. Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski is basically the audience as we make our way through the world, mixing naiveté and charm with just the right amount of gumption. The weird breakout star, however, seems to be Colin Farrell as Graves, the man who is looking for the Obscurial for his own reasons, but is so charismatic, you kind of forget that he’s supposed to be the villain of the piece and for a while, even root for him. It’s sad that we don’t learn a little more about MACUSA or the Second Salemers but there’s only so much you can establish in one movie.
If you go for no other reason, go to see the look of the film. The cinematography looked great in the trailers and print ads, but does it just breathe life on the screen, in full rhythm with the story. The sets are gorgeous, the beasts of the title move and flow with such weight and grace that they feel like they are really there. The look is cohesive from start to finish, never diminishing the wonder and the beauty in any of the scenes. From the costumes, to the ways of speaking, to the details in every single scene, this movie is a marvel, a gorgeous visual masterpiece that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can play it on.
While I think the title does the film a great disservice, I am so glad we got this film at all. It is a reminder of exactly why we loved the original franchise and yet gives us a deeper and darker plot to follow. It’s a smart film but more importantly, it has a strong heart, one whose beat the rest of the films will hopefully follow.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a worthy successor/predecessor to the Harry Potter franchise. The acting is incredibly strong, the world-building truly feels magical, and the cinematography is simply phenomenal. If they can keep this momentum up for the rest of the four films, then we’re getting the continuation we deserve and not that Cursed Child nonsense.