Harry Potter has never been my thing. I was never allowed to watch it as a kid, and when I finally got to watch it as a twenty-something, I was constantly annoyed by how often the rules of magic were added and detracted whenever the plot required it.
I was not gleeful about seeing Fantastic Beasts, but I know everyone else is obsessed over Harry Potter, so I decided to give it a go and discover the level of enjoyment I would receive. My discovery is that I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a charming movie that gets better the longer you watch it. There was a lot of elements that I really liked about it, and there was unfortunately almost as many elements that annoyed me to no end. The good news is that at least I enjoyed myself.
The more I saw Eddie Redmayne on screen, the more his character grew on me. That being said, his character starts out as insufferable. His quirkiness could easily be mistaken for apathy at the first part of the movie, and I was constantly asking myself why his character, Newt, wasn’t taking things so seriously. Considering he’s a guy who collects beasts he sincerely tries to keep secret from both humans and wizards, for the safety of all parties, he sure acts like an uncaring doofus whenever one of his monsters escapes.
However, when compared and contrasted with all the supporting characters he later joins, his personality becomes much more complimentary to everyone else, and I actually found a lot of enjoyment in Redmayne’s performance.
Aside from Newt as a character, the rest of the beginning movie was relatively bland, and I was often frustrated at how the movie decided to assume that I would know so much about this magic and its rules. Once again, J. K. Rowling’s magic story is as loose with its rules and explanations for magic as a hobo is loose with his dental hygiene. The first time Newt decides to use his wand to magically pull objects towards him, it made me wonder why he decided not to do that during every other instance. There were a handful of times where Newt decides he’s going to chase a beast around without magic (with disastrous, and therefore supposedly humorous, consequences), only to be completely resolved by him trapping the beast with magic once all the supposed comedy was done.
The movie doesn’t really have much of a villain. There is a vile woman who’s trying to hunt down magic users (who by the way, seems to stand in for how Rowling feels about religious people), there are some human side characters that play off the magic paranoia, the American branch of magic users aren’t all that nice, and Collin Farrell can be rather scummy, but the main focus is obviously not on establishing an imminent threat, but rather focusing on the wacky adventures of Newt and friends.
Now at this point, you might be thinking, “Didn’t you say you enjoyed this movie a lot more than you expected? Then why do you have almost all negative things to say about it?” Fair enough, I’ll get to that.
So what really makes this movie is the supporting characters. Dan Fogler as the goofy muggle “Jacob”, and Alison Sudol as the ditzy but affectionate “Queeny” are the shining parts of this movie. Not only are they the most likable and entertaining, but they often assist both of our leading characters, Newt and Tina, from being so annoying or bland. When the four play off each other, that’s when the most heartfelt moments happen.
The movie also goes down some dark places, and I was quite surprised with how mature the narrative got from occasion to occasion. What’s even better is that Fantastic Beasts actually makes room for some irreversible consequences. This meant that even though I found the plot to be irritating and trivial at times, there were other parts of the plot that got me emotionally invested.
As for these fantastic beasts (and coincidentally, where to find them), there’s a few scenes where they delve into these monsters in interesting ways, and I found many of the scenes to be entertaining. But like many other elements in this movie and The Harry Potter universe in general, they often skim over interesting details that would have made the movie a lot more satisfying if they expanded on them instead. Oftentimes, instead of Newt demonstrating his masterful finesse of monster hunting, they just skip to scenes where they just find the monster, as if they just stumbled upon them.
The reason that this frustrated me is because the monsters were all lost all over this expansive New York City, and Newt often dialogues with other characters discussing how difficult catching these monsters will be… and then they just instantly find them without so much as a sliver of conflict or trial.
On a side note, I do find it quite humorous that this movie, along with a lot of media lately, decided to make a character that they frequently refer to as “madam president”. There’s so many “madam president” characters lately that it feels like Hollywood was constantly paying homages to a supposed Hillary Clinton victory. Fantastic Beasts has a woman be the commander of the American wizard charter, and that’s what they constantly refer to her as. With all the smugness that Hollywood often exudes whenever they put politics into their movies, I can’t help but laugh now whenever somebody refers to a character as such. No, this doesn’t have anything to do with how I’m rating the film.
I honestly really enjoyed this film at times, and there were even times where I felt sentimental about the characters and their struggles. Unfortunately, there is too many lazy plot elements, ridiculous moments, and bland scenes and characters for me to justify giving this movie a higher grade. If you’re a huge fan of Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling, then I would imagine that this is a movie you’ll love… obviously objective storytelling and consistent universe building isn’t on Harry Potter fans’ minds, otherwise it wouldn’t be nearly as popular.
However, even though this movie irritated me, I was occasionally impressed with where the story took me. I’d recommend this movie to anyone who isn’t the most ardent of Harry Potter critics.