So we’re all clear on this: I really like Harry Potter. I’ve read the books. I’ve seen the movies. I listen to the soundtracks. I’d seriously consider naming a daughter Hermione. Do we all understand that?
Okay, good…that said, it shouldn’t surprise you that I would go to an opening night showing of the new addition to that universe: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. After all, it is a Harry Potter film (!!!) set in New York (!) in the 1920s (!!). I was going to learn more about the American Wizarding World. (!!!!!!!!!!) How could this go wrong?
Honestly, there are many ways that it could have gone wrong, but for the most part, this movie stayed the course. It carried on the themes that I love from the books and the original movies. It helped that J.K. Rowling wrote the film and David Yates who directed four of the eight HP movies directed it. That provided the film with stability and continuity.
The film introduces us to Newt Scamander who we only previously knew as the author a Hogwarts textbook-Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them-and as the grandfather of Luna Lovegood’s husband Rolf Scamander. Through the original series, I’d always thought of Newt as an old man, but meeting him in the movie (as played by Eddie Redmayne) was a delightful surprise. Newt is adorable, nerdy, socially awkward, and curious. He’s incredibly passionate about the magical beasts that he cares for. Redmayne brings a level of clear Hufflepuff generosity to the role. (It probably helps that both he and his character are from the Badger house.) Redmayne brings a level of endearing awkwardness to his character that helped me to understand why he could be likable to some of his contemporaries and irritating to others.
The supporting cast was good. Colin Farrell makes a brilliantly complex Percival Graves. Katherine Waterston plays Tina Goldstein as a strong woman who is determined to do what is right regardless of what her authority figures tell her. Tina makes a good role model for young girls. Dan Fogler is delightful as Jacob Kowalski, the No-Maj who serves as our representative as we explore the Wizarding World of New York and Newt’s magical beasts. Fogler was bumblingly endearing and did a great job of conveying the wonder, delight, and confusion of encountering such a colorful and unusual new world. Eza Miller’s turn as the complicated Credence Barebone was haunting and intriguing.
Rowling did a great job of creating intriguing characters. I wanted to know more about Scamander’s life. How did he get those beasts? Why was he expelled from Hogwarts? What is his relationship to Albus Dumbledore? I’m hoping that the future movies will answer some of these questions.
Farrell kept me guessing throughout the film, and I loved it. I knew he was a complex character. I didn’t necessarily like him, but I was curious. The script kept me guessing. It was fun to wonder what his actual motivations were.
The script wasn’t brilliant. It was good, but it wasn’t great. The plot was relatively easy to follow. It kept me engaged. It appealed to my love of the Harry Potter universe. I loved the references to what I already knew. However, it didn’t strike me as the greatest movie of the year. It left me with questions that probably won’t be answered in future movies. I felt like some things were just thrown into the movie to appease me as a fan. (Did I really need that twenty-second Hogwarts vs. Ilvermorny argument? No, because I don’t know enough about Ilvermoney yet? What houses were Tina and Queenie? Don’t let me with unresolved threads like that.) I felt like some characters needed more development. I wanted a better explanation of need for secrecy in the American Wizarding World. Why did it have to be so hidden from the No-Majs? (I’m guessing it comes from things like the Salem Witch Trials, but I’d like that explained to me.) I also wonder if that’s what life was like in Britain during the 1920s or were relationships between wizards and muggles more open in Britain at the point? Was muggle-wizard intermarriage banned in Britain too?
So what did I love? The colors/cinematography, the music, and the CGI…this movie was aesthetically beautiful. The settings, the costumes, the beasts-they were all gorgeous. I loved looking at the colors that the artists used to create the beasts. The CGI artists did an amazing job of bringing the beasts to life. It was easy to believe that they were real. The costuming was also gorgeous. The colors, the textures-it was all beautiful. I loved the visual feast.
And the music…I love the music from the original soundtracks, so I was thrilled that James Newton Howard was taking on the soundtrack. It was gorgeous. It helped guide the mood and draw me into the film. I don’t think that it deserves an Oscar, but it was delightful.
Overall, I give it four out of five. It was good but not great. I enjoyed it, and I’ll probably see it again. I’ll probably buy the DVD. I’ll definitely see the next movie. I can’t wait to see where this goes from here. Hopefully, the plot will be stronger, and the movie will be even better than this one.
(Now I want a Quidditch Through the Ages movie.)