While most reviews about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came out two years ago when the movie was originally released, this review comes from the unique perspective of a Potter fan who saw the sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald before its predecessor. And while the sequel was bashed for being uneventful (although I found it quite solid), I would say much of the fault would come from this movie for setting the bar high.
Synopsis: Magizoologist (think Steve Erwin of the magic world) Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) travels from Britain all the way to New York on a mission to free a magical creature called the Thunderbird, in its natural habitat in Arizona. However, things go awry when one of his creatures, a niffler, escapes from his magical case and wreaks havoc in a muggle bank. Things go from bad to worse when Newt is arrested by demoted auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and his case gets switched in all the hullabaloo. All this while the city reels from the threat of fascist wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) rallying support for his nefarious cause and an Obscurus threatening to expose the existence of wizards to no-maj (the American term for muggles).
Fantastic beasts and magical creatures are not new concepts in the HP universe. They’ve been there since the beginning. Harry Potter and his gang did a swell job of introducing some magical creatures throughout the course of eight Potter movies but the main focus has always been Harry’s eventual showdown with He Who Must Not Be Named aka Voldemort.
With Fantastic Beasts, the franchise manages to introduce a new character who audiences can rally behind. While Newt Scamander is different from Harry Potter, he is highly rootable because he is an unlikely hero that wins over evil with wits and a pure heart. Sounds ideal on paper but Eddie Redmayne definitely brings these characteristics to life with his character’s small but distinctive quirks that manage to endear Newt to a fresh batch of fans.
Personally, I love how he sticks his mouth out like a little boy and avoids eye contact except for when he’s dealing with his creatures. His transitions are remarkable. As Newt, he’s an adorable dork. There’s no other way around it. But when push comes to shove, he never thinks twice about risking his life to save Credence, who plays an even bigger role in the sequel. And let’s talk about Ezra Miller whose general creepiness level from 1-100 in this movie was around 110. And yet, the whole time, audiences sympathize with his character. Audiences knew that there was something up with him from the beginning and it was glorious when it was revealed.
I liked the character development in this installment. Not only was Newt established as the central character of this extended universe, but the supporting characters were given equal importance as well. I loved how Newt and Jacob (Dan Fogler) bonded over the beasts (and their mishaps), his awkward but sweet moments with Tina, and Jacob’s budding love story with Queenie (Alison Sudol). I liked the innocence and the magic that the fantastic beasts represented and the amount of excitement they contributed to the overall story. Each creature had its own personality that made them an integral part of Newt’s personality.
I was a bit let down by Grindelwald’s reveal. I felt like he was a bit of a sidebar in this movie. I would have wanted there to be more clues to make the climax more interesting, plotwise but I get that Grindelwald’s crusade will not end with his arrest at the hands of the American Ministry of Magic. And I take comfort in that. There are more movies to be developed out of this expanded franchise after all. And let’s face it, Grindelwald needs to face off with Dumbledore to make for an epic showdown.
Kudos to the excellent use of CGI for this movie. It was truly a magical experience. Also, author and now screenwriter JK Rowling and director David Yates, who has been directing the Harry Potter movies since the fifth installment, deserves credit for establishing a consistency in the franchise that leaves no doubt that it belongs to a single universe. Rowling should have written the scripts from the first chapter of the Harry Potter movies. She is as talented on screen as she is on writing her books.
All in all, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the perfect vehicle to jumpstart yet another saga connected to Potterverse. It delivers on adventure, friendship, magic, wonder and possibilities that has been at the core of the franchise all this time. If I haven’t said it enough, Eddie Redmayne was the perfect choice to headline this new series because of his natural charisma and amazing acting skills. But most of all, Fantastic Beasts’ charm lies in its innocence and its effort to introduce the importance of the mythical creatures to the magical realm.