REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks the return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Taking place years ahead of and an ocean away from the legendary tale of The Boy Who Lived, Beasts opens with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) entering New York with a suitcase full of magical beasts. Of course, some beasts manage to escape leading Newt on a wild chase to get them back under control.
The backdrop of New York at the height of the roaring twenties infuses the film with the fantastical element that is often lost when fantasy films drop the British accents the audience has been trained to associate with the genre. The backdrop is fleshed out by Tina (played by Katherine Waterston), a discredited Auror, Kowalski (played by Dan Fogler), a regular human, skilled baker, and proud New York-ah, and Tina’s flapper roommate Queenie (played by Alison Sudol) whose help Newt enlists, or is forced to accept, in pursuit of his lost possessions. The new location also results in some charming entries into the Potter lexicon. The US equivalent of the Ministry of Magic is named MACUSA, fitting considering the nation’s love of acronymic state departments, while muggles are called no-majs.
The story and screenplay come directly from the mind of J.K. Rowling. The adventure that propels the film forward is always enjoyable but the storyline suffers from side plots that leave plenty of seams showing. While the Harry Potter series successfully set up later films while seeming true to the storyline at hand, Beasts feels burdened by the need to lay the groundwork for the next four films that have been promised in the series. The beasts themselves invigorate the magical aspect of the film that felt a bit lacking in the later Potter films, however the film’s finale maintains the same lack of creativity that plagued the late Potter finales in which wands could just as easily be replaced by guns. We are left waiting for a finale in which the antagonist’s depravity is matched only by the cruel ingenuity of their spells. But with more films promised, there is still plenty of time for the series to dazzle us.
Although Beasts does not successfully maintain the engrossing thrill of the Potter series, it is still a fun return to the wizarding world with enough new elements to suggest a promising future for the series.