Harry Potter fans assumed we had seen the last of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world on the big screen after the release of “The Deathly Hallows: Part 2” in 2011. Harry Potter finally defeated the dark wizard Voldemort and found his happy ending. However, while Harry’s cinematic journey was done, Rowling still had wizarding stories to tell. She wrote a screenplay inspired by her fictional guide to the magical creatures of the Harry Potter universe, called “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The new movie serves as a prequel of sorts to the Harry Potter stories, taking place in 1920s New York instead of the modern-day United Kingdom.
Former Hogwarts student Newt Scamander lands in New York City with a case of magical creatures that he can’t quite keep contained. Of course, several of these creatures get loose, and he has to enlist the help of two sisters who also have wizarding powers, as well as a somewhat overwhelmed No-Maj (the American word for “Muggle”). Four friends chasing magical creatures around the city would be a rather thin plot for a movie, so of course there’s more going on behind the scenes. As they search for the creatures, Newt and his friends stumble across a darker threat to the wizarding community. An “Obscurus,” a dark force that is created when magical children try to hide their powers, has been committing terrible acts, destroying buildings and even killing No-Majs. A key figure within the Magical Congress of the United States may also be trying to use the child’s powers for their own purpose.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is an enjoyable movie, though it doesn’t rise to quite the same heights as the best of the Harry Potter films. For me, it ranks somewhere in the middle: I liked it better than “The Order of the Phoenix” and “The Deathly Hallows: Part 1” (which is basically just an over-padded prologue to “The Deathly Hallows: Part 2”), but it doesn’t pack the same emotional punch as my favorite Potter movies, “The Half-Blood Prince” and “The Deathly Hallows: Part 2” (which pack one heck of an emotional punch — pass the Kleenex boxes!). Although it does feel as though Rowling is stretching a bit here, it’s still a fun adventure for Potter fans.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” introduces some new characters to Rowling’s film franchise. Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, a character who’s a little like a less manic and more introverted version of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. I thought Redmayne was lovably quirky in this role, and his love for the magical creatures he keeps in his case was charming. As a Hufflepuff myself, I enjoyed seeing a hero from this house in the film. 😉 Another character who stood out to me was Jacob Kowalski, the No-Maj who gets caught up in Newt’s adventure. As a bumbling and sometimes slightly clueless sidekick, Jacob could have easily become an annoying stereotype. However, I actually found his character to be rather endearing. He may not fully understand what’s going on in this world of magic and wizards, but he’s not afraid to risk his life for his friends. I didn’t immediately fall in love with the other characters, like I did with the main characters from the previous Harry Potter movies, but I think there’s a lot of potential for these characters with the upcoming “Fantastic Beasts” films.
I think my favorite part of this movie was the first time Newt took Jacob inside his briefcase full of magical creatures — a case that’s a little like the Tardis in that it’s “bigger on the inside” and has room for all of Newt’s creatures. I loved seeing all the unusual creatures and the care Newt had taken to craft the perfect homes for them. My favorite creature from the movie was the treasure-loving Niffler. Even though this creature causes a lot of trouble, it’s very cute. 🙂
The film does have an intriguing villain, but the less you know about that going in, the better, because the film ends with a surprise twist. ***Spoiler alert!*** I’m actually a little disappointed Colin Farrell’s character, a suspicious American wizard named Percival Graves, was actually just a disguise for Dumbledore’s famous adversary, the dark wizard Grindelwald. I wish they had actually made Graves a separate character because I was looking forward to seeing him in future films and learning more about his background/motivations. Still, I am intrigued by what Johnny Depp will do in the role as Grindelwald. There was actually a bit of controversy when this casting came out, since Depp has fallen from Hollywood’s graces somewhat and there are some troubling rumors about his personal life. However, I do think he could be a good fit for this role, and I’m glad he’s getting a chance to play something darker and more serious, to show off his range as an actor. ***End spoiler alert!***
In short, I had a lot of fun watching this movie, and I enjoyed returning to Rowling’s wizarding world. I am a bit concerned about the announcement of five “Fantastic Beasts” films, because I’m not sure this storyline can sustain five movies, but I do think there are interesting themes to explore going forward.