On the evening of the opening weekend, I saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in IMAX 3D with a small group of friends. The theatre was packed and the audience was enthusiastic. Afterwards, I thought that the film was funny, beautiful, and darker than the Harry Potter series had ever gone — my friends disagreed with the last part. I decided to catch a second showing and left significantly less blown away.
WARNING: The following review contains spoilers.
I was excited for the release of this film; the textbook has always been a fun read and it managed to live up to my expectations where Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his beasts were concerned. But when I heard that the film would be one of a five part series, I was apprehensive. After watching it twice, I think it would have worked better as a fun flick, separate from the story of Gellert Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) dark rise to power. An interesting story but drastically different in tone than Newt’s.
The film managed to capture the atmosphere of the wizarding world with beautiful settings and a great score, including new melodies with several bars from “Hedwig’s Theme” dropped in. For example, the world inside the suitcase, though entirely CGI and far more impressive in IMAX 3D, was nonetheless enchanting. I felt like I was back in Harry’s universe — a feeling I didn’t get when I read the recently released screenplay Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The headquarters of the Magical Congress of the United States of America, the distinct streets of 1920s New York, and the increased use of high-speed apparition and nonverbal spells in everyday life fleshed out the wizarding world that fans had become so familiar with.
J.K. Rowling clearly has ambitious ideas for this new series, and she has proven herself capable of executing multiple complex storylines before. Yet in the Harry Potter series, the danger steadily escalated through each book and through the series as a whole. Its subtle bits of foreshadowing never detracted from the main story, whereas Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them suffers from conflicting tones, awkward pacing, forced set-up, and incomplete plot points.
It’s worth noting that Grindelwald’s appearance is appallingly bad. With the bleached and gelled hair, moustache, and maniacal grin, the darkest wizard of the age looks like a caricature — and this is the man Albus Dumbledore fell in love with. Incidentally, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), the character that Grindelwald disguised himself as throughout the film, was a much stronger design for a charismatic villain.
Appearances aside, Grindelwald’s reveal in the film managed to be both predictable and disappointing. Any viewer could pick up on his bad intentions, and Harry Potter fans would immediately recognize the Deathly Hallows symbol as Grindelwald’s adopted mark. Despite this, everyone else I knew who had seen the film said that they merely thought Graves would be a disciple or follower, not the dark wizard himself. Considering how dramatic and delayed the reveal of Emperor Palpatine was in Star Wars or the Fire Lord in Avatar: The Last Airbender, I couldn’t help feeling that this major reveal fell flat.
In both viewings, magizoologist Newt Scamander and his beasts were the best parts of the film. Every animal was brilliantly designed in appearance and character. Harry Potter fans will recognize Nifflers as the beasts that Lee Jordan snuck in Professor Umbridge’s office to wreak havoc, Erumpents from the horn in Luna Lovegood’s bedroom, and Bowtruckles from Harry’s Care of Magical Creatures class. For fans, these creatures came to life, and for those unfamiliar with the Harry Potter series, the animals were just as hilarious and adorable to watch.
The merits of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ends when we venture beyond what this title encompasses. While part of the plot centres on Newt searching for his escaped creatures, the rest involves the rise of the dark wizard Grindelwald, an impending war between Muggles and wizards, and a destructive Obscurial. So much of the film attempts to set up for the next four installments that the story becomes cluttered, underdeveloped, and rife with unsatisfying resolutions.
Eventually, this franchise will culminate in Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s famous duel in 1945, and I see no place for Redmayne’s character in that fight. Despite the jumbled plotlines, the Harry Potter universe and its characters still intrigued me enough to keep watching, stay open-minded, and wait to see what will follow.