“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Review


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fun, though forgettable, romp through 1920s New York that features plenty of wizards and, you guessed it, fantastic beasts. If you are interested in seeing the sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, be sure to watch this first. The movie is available to rent on iTunes, Youtube, and various other streaming services.

The film is buoyed by its mixed bag of lead characters. Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne portrays the awkward yet charming Newt Scamander, a British magizoologist that is constantly out of his element in the large and unfamiliar New York. Redmayne breathes remarkable life into the character, it’s difficult to imagine another actor taking on the role. Dan Fogler plays the lovable No-Maj, America’s term for muggle, Jacob Kowalski, that gets caught up in the magical adventure. The rest of the cast delivers serviceable performances as thoroughly unmemorable characters. Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is a disgraced auror stubbornly tied to her moral compass. Waterston’s character has potential, but she isn’t explored in enough depth for the audience to care. Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudor) is so over-the-top goofy, confusing viewers every time she’s on the screen. Colin Farrell, cast as the film’s antagonist Percival Graves, is fine. Just fine. Farrell does the best he can with the material he’s given, but the villain meanders from scene to scene with an angry face, and his motivations are not revealed until the last five minutes of the film. Even for an Oscar-nominee, Farrell can’t make the character work.

The story revolves around a suitcase full of magical creatures that Newt (Redmayne) brings into New York, and the events that follow the creatures’ eventual escape from the case. Rowling’s creativity and imagination is ever-present as the first two acts of the story mostly serve as a way to showcase the beautifully crafted creature designs. Each creature has a unique look and most are a twist on animals that we already know. The editing feels a bit disjointed at times, as the film is essentially trying to balance two different stories that intersect at various moments.

David Yates, the director of the final four Harry Potter films, return to helm the first entry in the new series. The script was penned by J.K. Rowling herself. Yates’ clear familiarity with franchise is both a positive and a negative for the film. He understands how to translate Rowling’s words to live-action in a satisfying fashion, but after four films exhibiting his style, it feels like the franchise could use a breath of fresh air.

The setting of the film is fantastic. The sights and sounds of a bustling, post World War 1 New York permeate every scene and fully immerse the audience in the world that Rowling has established. It’s fascinating to explore a new corner of the wizarding world that hasn’t yet been seen. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, while not outstanding on its own, is a good stepping stone for future installments of the franchise, as this is the first-part in a story that is planned to span five films.