Written by Hannah Williams
*The following review contains some small spoilers about the film*
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the latest addition to the “Harry Potter” universe, begins with a distinctly dark tone. In 1926, the political situation in the wizarding world is tense as anti-wizard sentiments run high among muggles. While kids might enjoy “Fantastic Beasts,” older audience members will pick up on the parallels to present-day issues.
Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, has just arrived in New York City. His only possession: a magical case full of fantastic beasts. While venturing the city, Newt accidentally stops outside a bank at a rally for the New Salem Philanthropic Society run by the witch-hating Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton).
In the chaos of the assembly, one of Newt’s creatures escapes. This ultimately leads to an accidental case swap with No-Maj (the American term for Muggle) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Unfortunately for Newt, this display of unregistered magic is witnessed by ex-Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who promptly takes Newt to the Magical Congress of the United States of America — also known as MACUSA. However, the president dismisses Tina, and Newt stays out of trouble for the time being.
Of course, at this point, Newt realizes he no longer has his case. He and Tina arrive at Kowalski’s apartment complex only to find that several beasts have escaped and are wreaking havoc on NYC. Kowalski himself has been bitten by a creature and is in danger, especially because of his No-Maj status. Tina takes the two to the apartment she shares with her sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol).
Newt and Kowalski soon leave to go collect Newt’s missing beasts, which only gets the two into more trouble. Tina catches up to them and takes them back to MACUSA, where both she and Newt are labeled traitors and sentenced to execution. You’ll have to watch the film to see the dramatic finale.
Written by J.K. Rowling, “Fantastic Beasts” is directed by David Yates. Yates, who directed the final four films in the original Harry Potter series, is quite familiar with the ins and outs of the wizarding world. The decision to keep Yates as director gave viewers consistency even with a completely new set of characters.
As this is the first screenplay written by Rowling, it’s clear that she hasn’t completely perfected the art yet. Many parts of the film felt as though they would have been better suited in novel form. Though the screenplay has been released in book format, I can’t help but wish “Fantastic Beasts” had been written a full-blown novel, where Rowling could have shown off the full extent of her talents.
Visually, the film is stunning. The HP team has clearly mastered movie magic. The effects were executed near flawlessly. The creatures were well designed, detailed and fascinating to look at. The film builds on many things only mentioned in passing in the original series, allowing diehard fans the chance to put together the puzzle pieces. However, newcomers to the franchise won’t feel lost without former Harry Potter knowledge — though they might be less entertained.
I enjoyed “Fantastic Beasts.” But while it was a lot of fun, I’m not sure where the series is going. In October, Rowling confirmed the series would span five films. While “Fantastic Beasts” wraps up quite nicely, the next film has a lot to do to transform this into a series fans will be clamoring to see. I definitely want more , but not necessarily four movies worth.
The series still has a great deal to prove, but it’s definitely worth a shot.