J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world has a lot of room for further stories outside of the character of Harry Potter. That world is expanded with “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, a story set in 1920s New York City.
The film follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a wizard from London with a suitcase full of illegal magical creatures. As tensions between the magical and no-maj community reach a boiling point, several of Scamander’s creatures escape into the city, setting off a series of events that lead to Scamander conflicting directly with the MACUSA, Magical Congress of the United States of America.
Not exactly a prequel, not exactly a standalone film, “Fantastic Beasts” both suffers and strengthens itself off its relationship with its predecessor. On the way hand, it is free from the constrictions of the books and can be its own entity. On the other, it is always in Harry Potter’s shadow, and the story is not as strong as any of the books.
The creatures are indeed fantastic and fun (though a bit over-reliant on CGI) and the interactions between them and Newt, in addition to the no-maj Jake Kowalski (Dan Fogler), are the true heart of the film. Other characters such as Porpentina (Katherine Waterston) and her sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) are rather pointless, and that’s a shame. Tina is really just the added-on love interest which is a character that has never materialized in one of Rowling’s books (outside of Cho Chang). Hopefully in the sequels, they will become more integral parts of the plot.
While it is always a joy to be in the wizarding world, the film suffers with a plot that is not clearly focused. While Newt collecting the creatures who escaped him is the main part of the story, there is a subplot involving Graves (Colin Farrell), Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) and Creedence (Ezra Miller) that doesn’t really seem to fit in with the rest of the story. Focusing on just Newt and his creatures would have given us a more cohesive story because the film feels distracted at times.
Those who enjoyed the Potter movies will find plenty to love in “Fantastic Beasts.” Those unfamiliar with them or disapproving of Rowling’s sometimes rambling plots and inactive characters will be left wanting, but the magic of Harry’s wondrous world is still with us.