It’s been over four years since we last saw J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world on the big screen. It seemed as though “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” could not possilby live up to the expectations of Harry Potter fans.
The film, however, was able to harness the nostalgia of its audience without relying on old tropes, and the J.K. Rowling screenplay did not disappoint.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” tells the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his quest to learn about, advocate for and protect magical creatures. It takes place in the 1920s, over 70 years before we’re introduced to the Boy Who Lived who begins studies at Hogwarts with a text by Scamander himself.
The film, which marks the first installment of the new spin-off trilogy, is warm, humorous, adventurous and fantastical. Scamander, who collects and cares for magical creatures, is visiting America in order to study new creatures and release some of his own in a time when tensions between the wizarding world and non-magic world are particularly high. When one of his creatures accidentally escapes and he exposes much of his magic to muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), he is arrested by demoted Auror, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston).
At the same time, a society of extremist muggles in New York City are calling for a “second Salem” and trying to initiate witch hunts and attacks. However, in the family leading the movement, a young man named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), has begun to connect with the wizarding world. As magical attacks begin to ravage the city and hesitant alliances are formed, tensions between the wizarding and non-magical worlds threaten to start a war great enough to end them both.
The pacing of the film was a little strange, but it did not become really noticeable until the drawn out ending. In an effort to tie up each loose end woven by the plot, the end of the film seemed to be a string of final scenes, with the very last one being the most underwhelming of them and almost humorous. However, aside from this, the film was wonderfully executed. The magical creatures are brilliantly animated, and the film is set in a way that is subtle and draws the viewers in. While there wasn’t standout chemistry among the actors, each character was portrayed superbly and the audience is led to fall in love with each and every one of them. Scamander is shy, innocent and passionate. Kowlski is humorous, kindhearted and undeniably lovable. Their love interests are fun, clever, brash and independent.
The film is successful because it revives the wizarding world for its biggest fans but stays distanced enough from the original films and books to avoid being too closely compared. While a little disturbing sometimes, this film actually seemed tame compared to many of the original Harry Potter films; however, while there may have been fewer fantastical and thrilling elements to scare viewers, there were very nuanced portrayals of real life violence and abuse.
Overall, this film is definitely worth a watch. Buy a copy for your movie collection; it truly deserves a spot on the shelf next to the eight previous films.