The year is 1926 and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident…were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds. (source)
I can’t believe I’ve never seen this film before. I, a thirty year old fan of Harry Potter since the tender age of eleven, never saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2017, dir. David Yates) at the cinema. Absolutely shameful. That’s why I had to include this film as part of my Blindspot series for 2018. Will my undying love for this franchise bias my view on the film, or will it set me up for a huge disappointment?
It must be especially difficult to write something new within an already established and extremely popular fictional universe. The Harry Potter cinematic and literary phenomenon is a special one because of the breadth of it success, and the fact that there were seven books and eight films to get to know and love all of the characters. In relation to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the good news is that the film stands up nicely as its own story within the context of the wider franchise. It is a very charming addition and expansion to what we know about the Harry Potter universe, and as a massive nerd, it was quite exciting to see a different wizarding population in a different part of the world. The story of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is not only located in a different time period, with all the gorgeous creative aspects that the 1920s affords, but also teaches us about wizarding life in the United States of America – fascinating (for me), given the country’s tumultuous history with witches (see: Salem witch trials). It communicates a new feeling of danger and risk, in contrast to what we already know about the wizarding universe within an English context; in the USA, witches and wizards were hunted and forced underground. Another piece of good news, is that this all feels completely believable. It’s comfortable viewing, even though some moments can have horror influences and feel somewhat scary.
The new characters we are presented with – Newt Scamander (Redmayne), Tina (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and no-maj (AKA muggle, AKA non magic person) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) – are really likeable and form quite a wholesome team who are actually enjoyable in their interactions with one another. The good news is that the film is surprisingly well acted (perhaps I’m used to the child acting of the original eight films in the franchise). Eddie Redmayne in particular conveys a magizoologist (magic animal specialist) who is somewhat socially awkward yet passionate about the rights of the beasts in his care, and Dan Fogler as no-maj Jacob conveys a congruent sense of wonder and awe at the amazing and unbelievable things he is witnessing as a result of helping Scamander in his quest. Supporting actors Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell were also highlights. I loved watching this group of characters together and I’m really happy to see that this established crew will be returning in some form in the new Fantastic Beasts film which is due for release this year.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was almost surprisingly enjoyable. Whilst it’s not all positive, as some aspects of the ending are a total deus ex machina cop-out, and some moments of the film were slightly difficult to follow, on the whole I enjoyed this immensely. It may be because of my undying love for the Harry Potter universe. But ultimately, one enters the world of this film knowing that you’re not settling down to watch the newest Oscar winner or high art film. This film is very different to the remainder of the films in the franchise, being a lot darker and requiring us to form relationships with the characters much more quickly. But overall, it’s a comfortable return to a beloved franchise, with an exciting story and the promise of more follow-up films which are hopefully just as good.
Watch the trailer here.
I’m glad you enjoyed it. I found it to be meh, mostly due to Yates’ direction. I enjoyed the period costumes and settings, and the acting was fine, but that was about all I got out of it. The worst part of the experience was discovering Yates’ plan to direct all five films in the series. It’d be nice to see other directors have a shot at this world, like with the Harry Potter films.
I agree – one of the best things about the early Potter films were the different directors having a try at exploring and communicating the amazing wizarding world. When Alfonso Cuaron picked up Prisoner of Azkaban, he had a completely different worldview and interpretation of what magic looked like, and it was fascinating and exciting. Yates having a monopoly on the direction of all of the Fantastic Beasts films makes me wonder if they will become somewhat creatively stagnant.
Nice review Anna. I enjoyed this as well. It may not be an instant classic, but I thought it was a fun popcorn movie. I’m looking forward to the sequel.😊
Thanks Kim! I’m looking forward to the sequel too, although the casting of Johnny Depp is dubious!
I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I wind up either loving him: the first Pirates movie, Edward Scissorhands, or I hate him: Lone Ranger, Willy Wonka, Dark Shadows.😒
Haven’t seen any HP films, but I have seen this. Not sure if that affects how I feel about it, but I found Fantastic Beasts to be one of those movies that isn’t terrible, but it isn’t good, either.
Yeah, I can see how it probably would have felt like an average film for people who aren’t crazy fans!
You gonna see Chris Hemsworth in the next Thor movies after Avengers 4?
I’ve actually never seen any of the Thor movies! One day I’ll work my way through the Marvel universe though.
I saw this even though I never saw a single HP movie. I didn’t love it but my nephew is just starting to get into Potter so I feel compelled to keep up a little.
And that’s the sign of an awesome aunt!
Glad you enjoyed it Anna. I was forced to rewatch it after I said it was meh – and it got better on the second watch. It is actually a decent fantasy film, but I think I’m a Potter purist – if it isn’t in the original works I’m not interested in considering it as something Potter. Wildly unfair from me though!
Thanks Natasha! I thought myself a Potter purist as well (reading The Cursed Child was a special kind of torture) but I did love this one.
I’m a Potter fan yet missed this in cinemas. Will have to watch it after reading your review.
Yeah! I really enjoyed it. Looking forward to the next one!
I like the idea of blind spot movies.
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