Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

When the beasts are front and center, the film is truly fantastic. Unfortunately, this is not the case for much of the movie


Image: Warner Bros Pictures

Drew Huddleston, Critic

It’s been five years since Harry Potter bid his son–and audiences–across the world farewell. Fans everywhere thought that was last time the Wizarding world would be shown on the silver screen. However, there has been an awakening.

In addition to new play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling has returned to the Wizarding World with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  What’s more, four sequels to the new film have been green lit.

Directed by David Yates, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them takes place in 1926 New York, 65 years before Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts and 3,459 miles away from the setting of original series.

The story takes place as Grindelwald’s attacks have been happening in London.  For those of you who do not remember, Grindelwald was discussed at length in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Before Voldemort rose to power, Grindelwald was the most dangerous wizard the world had ever known.

With Grindelwald on the loose, the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) is on full alert. Not only that, but the muggle community (known as No- Majs in the USA) is becoming suspicious that wizards are real, as the city is being attacked by an unseen creature, known in the Wizarding community as an Obscurist.

Meanwhile, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) , director of magical security, uses a boy named Credence (Ezra Miller), a no-maj who lives in an orphanage devoted to proving witches and wizards are real, to try to find the source of the Obscurist, since they like to live in children. Oh, and there’s a guy with a case of creatures.

David Yates is the most experienced Harry Potter movie director, as he has directed years 5, 6, 7 part 1, and 7 part 2. He brings back the expertly directed and visually stunning action that fans adored in previous installments. The sequences are shot smoothly, and well edited, especially in the epic climax. Fantastic Beasts contains some of the best action since Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Fantastic Beasts is the first Harry Potter movie not being adapted from a book. The book is merely a field guide that protagonist Newt Scamander, played by Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne, wrote about his magical creatures. So who better to write the screenplay that J.K Rowling. While she definitely does a good job expanding the wizarding world from London to New York, the plot suffers.

While the film is titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, most of the film revolves around the MACUSA, and the mystery of the Obscurist. This would be fine if it was easy to follow. Instead, the movie just kind of jumps around from plot to plot, making it hard to understand the point at times.

When the movie revolves around Newt finding his missing creatures, it’s great. The story flows, and there is a real whimsical and magical feeling, much like the Sorcerer’s Stone. The creatures look gorgeous and are brought to life by some truly mind blowing CGI. Unfortunately, the rest of the time, it’s a slow, and dull movie, full of mind-numbing exposition. My point: when the plot revolves around Newt or action, it works. The rest of the time…not so much.

Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander. Redmayne gives a solid performance–nothing too special, but not horrible. He interacts with the CGI elements very well, seeing that is a big part of his character. His performance is not as good as his in The Theory of Everything, but, at the same time, it is not as bad as Jupiter Ascending.

The rest of the performances are passible. Colin Farrell, Alison Sudol, Katherine Waterston, and Carmen Ejogo all give good, but not great performances.

Other than Redmayne, two other performances really stand out from the pack. The first is Dan Folger, who plays a no-maj named Jacob Kowalski,  who accidentally swaps cases with Scamander and releases some of the creatures into the city. Folger gives an excellent performance as the sidekick. His character expresses the awe the audience feels when introduced to the monsters in Newt’s case. He also plays a good comic relief character.

The second is Ezra Miller’s character, Credence. Credence is easily my favorite character in the film. His character is given a very tragic element. I don’t know if this is because of the script or Miller’s performance, but it works. People mock him, call him a freak, and the owner of the orphanage beats him every night. The best example of the sadness of his character is a visual image. The camera looks down over Credence as he stands in the middle of the sidewalk, holding out slips of paper advertising that witches live in New York. He stands in a slumped position, emphasising his sorrow. The people pass him by as if he isn’t even there.  Throughout the entire movie, Miller’s character was the only one I really cared about.  I felt so bad for him.

When Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a movie about finding missing creatures, it works well. However, when it’s anything else, not as much.

I can’t help but say I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t learn where to find my own Niffler.  

Grade:  B-