Nostalgic as a Harry Potter fan, but not enough on offer
Couldn’t they have given Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them a shorter name? Let’s just call it Fantastic Beasts. On first watch, back in 2016, I really enjoyed this movie. The more I watched it and thought about it though, the less and less I enjoy it. I think as an avid Harry Potter fan, who enjoys all 8 of the other films, I felt that I HAD to like Fantastic Beasts.
There are a few main problems I have with this film, but I’ll tell you what I like first. The characters in Fantastic Beasts are great. (In the first one, stay tuned for my thoughts on the Crimes of Grindelwald) Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is great, and the rag tag ensemble of Jacob, Queenie and Tina fit in very well for this magical story. Seems like these Wizarding World Movies work best with an ensemble of friends with different qualities. Jacob is comedic relief but also a clever tool to bring exposition into scenes. Newt is smart, but needs help socially. Tina is adept, yet needs to prove herself. Queenie has special skills that she’s never really gotten to use for a big purpose. So the characters are actually, dare I say, lovable. The other good part of this film is the tone. There’s a great mesh of the dramatic elements with the whimsical wonder of a magical world.
Now to the problems. Let me start off with the press and hype around this film. A new five-part series that will bring back a younger Dumbledore and show his great battle against Grindelwald was sure to get the entire Harry Potter fandom excited. It was exciting and to a degree still is. However, in that conversation I never heard about Newt or Tina or...anyone else. Even in Fantastic Beasts it seems pretty clear that these characters aren’t necessarily involved in this whole Grindelwald-Dumbledore scenario in a major way. Their skills don’t even seem up to par, they seem to be on the sidelines of something bigger, begging the question, why is this film about Newt (and the sequel) and not about Dumbledore and Grindelwald? I like Newt. I really do. For Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Does he fit into this famous Wizarding War story? Not really. The press behind this film created certain expectations for what the story should be and would be, and that’s not what we, the audience, got. That’s leading me directly into one of the other main issues with this film, being the scope of this story. This film works best when it’s about a curious Wizard in a foreign country who discovers a powerful and rare being, not when it’s about this mysterious dark wizard, who, by the way, we all know is going to lose already.
Enough on that. My final point is that the magic sucks. You can disagree, but let me explain. So in 2014 Harry Potter World opened at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. My mom took my sister and I for Spring Break and we spent almost an entire day there. Our visit to Olivander’s Wand Shop saw me wave various wands at objects in the room and...it went south. Then, the proper wand lit up the room. Sounds like the first Harry Potter film, right? Sounds like someone’s first sight of magic. Listen, I know these were all pre-planned practical effects and they do that all day, over and over, but that’s what magic was in the Harry Potter films. A mostly practical effect, sometimes with the help of some CGI. That’s magic, it looks and feels real. It seems possible to the world of the movie. That’s the Harry Potter magic I fell in love with as a kid. In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them we see these crazy spells, which a lot of the time aren’t spoken aloud, and a string of CGI particles flies out of a wand. Essentially, these wizards can wave their wands however they want and do whatever they want, with no explanation, and nothing actually happening. These effects come later, so it’s not any different from being in Elementary School and pretending my pencil is a wand. It really draws me out of the movie. A movie about Wizards has to feel magical, this film feels like a bunch of CGI because someone behind the scenes was too lazy or not creative enough to achieve the magic in a practical way. This problem is even worse in the sequel, but you can read about that in that review.
Overall, I did mostly enjoy this film. It’s funny and has good pacing. It fulfilled some of the curiosities I had about the Wizarding World, so I can’t hate it too much. Would I watch it again? I feel like I have to as a Harry Potter fan. Should you watch it? If you’re a Harry Potter Fan, go for it. If you’re not, definitely don’t waste your time, you’ll think even less of this cinematic universe.