Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, directed by David Yates and written by J.K. Rowling; offers up some truly unique and enjoyable moments. However, it never really seems to achieve anything of note. Behind all the towering wonders and exhilarating magical feats; exists a film that feels hollow in its attempts to introduce us to its new set of characters and its never properly explored locations. So much of the film feels like it has been left to other instalments to tackle, rather than be adequately fleshed out in this one. There are certainly some interesting points to breakdown about this film, so let’s get to it.
We follow Newt Scamander – Played by Eddie Redmayne – a wizard who seeks to protect rare, endangered species, and also seeks to educate his fellow wizards on the importance of understanding and protecting these special creatures. His efforts lead him to New York City, where an unfortunate set of circumstances sees some of his creatures escaping and causing trouble throughout the streets of New York. Along with the help of a ‘Nomag’ (a non-magic person) Jacob Kowalski – played by Dan Fogler – the two search for, and rescue the missing animals. However, a much bigger and more dangerous threat looms in the streets of New York; one that no one is truly prepared to handle.
So I’ve gone on a mixed journey with, Fantastic Beasts. When I first left the cinema and was discussing my thoughts on the film, they were generally positive (but I did still have some problems with the film). But now that I’ve let the film settle in, I’ve come to the realisation that I had a lot of problems with the film, and it actually left me wanting so much more from a film that is the first in a multi-film franchise. So much is underserved, and so little is set-up in a way that is meaningful or gets me excited for other films to come. So while I enjoyed elements of the film, there is going to be quite a bit, that I will be coming at from a negative stance in this review.
Where I want to start, is the films failure to adequately set-up, develop or intrigue me in any of its characters. Now from an acting standpoint, there are some really good performances in the film – director David Yates has never been one who has struggled in bringing out the best from his actors. But unfortunately, there is just a lack of depth to almost any of the characters. The only one who stands out as someone with some layers to them is, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). There was a clear and worthwhile journey for the character; he started off in a struggling place, and through the help of his friends, was able to build himself into the person he wanted to be – it isn’t done in a way that’s as in-depth as I would have liked, but it was enough to engage me with the character. It also helps that, Jacob is our window into the magical world; everything is completely foreign to him, and it is through his eyes; through his questions that we get a clearer sense of what makes the wizarding world tick.
The films primary lead in the film, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) didn’t have a well-developed enough exploration in the film for me. I feel I barely got to know him; so much of what made up his character felt surface level. The film was so intent on setting up things for future films, that it failed to give him the appropriate amount of time in this film (a problem, I’ll be exploring more of, in a little bit). Newt was someone who certainly gave the film purpose; he helped to further things along, as the films secondary plot slowly built into something more important. But it does feel like he was wasted, slightly. The role that Newt does play in the film, that is most important, is that he is our guide – while Jacob is the window into the world, Newt is the person bringing us in and showing us all its wonders. From a story standpoint, I feel this was a great decision. Yes, Newt was in desperate need of much more development and exploration, but the little we did get, did endear me ever so slightly to him, and it made watching his and Jacob’s journey around New York, an absolute joy at times.
The chemistry between both the actors and the characters makes the exploits of Jacob and Newt, some of the most fun parts of the film. Jacob’s trepidation; Newt’s endearing ignorance to just how crazy all of it is for Jacob; the two of them getting into big, silly, fun situations involving some mystical creature, really do make for some of the most enjoyable moments in the film.
However other than Jacob and Newt, there aren’t any characters who really standout. They either feel badly handled in their initial development: Tina – played by Katherine Waterston – being the prime example of that, or they are clearly someone who is only there to be established and won’t receive any meaningful exploration until another film e.g. Graves – played by Colin Farrell. There was just a dearth of characters that felt properly expanded upon; there was pretty much no one who fully caught my attention and made me want to follow along with more of their story.
I mean one of the biggest elements that the film is missing, is an antagonist. Again, the film sets up a villain, but it is clearly for the sequels. In this film we are given some bait-and-switch set-up about the possible villain, only for it to lead to nowhere; leaving us to wait until the next film for any sort of payoff. This isn’t new for films in the Harry Potter universe – teasing us with a big bad was something they did for multiple films. But in those films they were able to fill the gap with someone who still intrigued you, while also feeling like a serious threat. While in this film, it just kind of fizzles out and left me lacking in any sort of notable emotional response. There is a clear antagonist shaped hole in this film, and it is one that needed to be filled with something.
The part of, Fantastic Beasts that is certainly not lacking, is its fully realised world; both J.K. Rowling and David Yates are more than adept at constructing huge, expansive, life-filled worlds. From the rules that are set in place by wizarding authority, to the locations that are filled with an eclectic range of individuals, to the unimaginably unique creatures that Newt seeks to rescue – everything about the world in, Fantastic Beasts feels so full of history and life. It was always interesting to look slightly off the beaten path and see what little intricate oddities made-up everyday life; little touches that seemed so other-worldly to a muggle, but was almost forgettable to a wizard, as it filled their everyday life. Seeing details like that, has always been something I’ve loved about the Harry Potter universe – things that are just different enough to seem magical, but still familiar enough, that you can comprehend them. The film is forever bustling with things to look at, which is always something I appreciate.
Here’s the interesting thing when I look back on, Fantastic Beats: I can see where it is that they want to go with it. However… their chosen path for getting there is one that is not beneficial to this initial film. So much feels overlooked or forgotten about; necessary things that are integral to any good film are just blatantly passed over and never given the attention that they deserve/need – and I know why. It’s because they have 4 more films after this one, and they need to start laying the groundwork for them. Now that’s fine (to an extent) I understand that they’ve got a universe of new characters and stories to set-up, and this film is the catalyst for most of them. But the problem that then results in is a film that feels totally lacking in the necessary elements, which make it an engrossing and rewarding watch.
David Yates is undoubtedly a talented director; the 4 Harry Potter films that he directed highlight that. J.K. Rowling is also undoubtedly a brilliant writer; her ability to form characters and breathe so much life into them with 1 page of a book is always incredible to see. But in the case of this film, there is just something missing – there talents are apparent in this film; but not to the extent that we have become accustomed too. I went in expecting to get a fun story, a fully fleshed out world, and most importantly, some really enticing and well-defined characters. Instead I got a passable story; the world is as wonderful as expected, but unfortunately I got characters who are completely lacking in the development required to make me interested enough to want to return and see more of them. Ultimately their obsession with setting up a whole new wave of films resulted in me being completely disconnected from almost anything the film had to offer.
So with much surprise on my part, I am not recommending, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This film failed to excite me about a new journey in the Harry Potter universe, and with this being the first in a new collection of films, that is extremely disappointing. Hopefully as the films start to build on one another, I’ll be more engrossed in them, but right now, I have no interest in the, Fantastic Beasts franchise.
I’d love to know your thoughts on, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I of course had quite a few problems; problems that resulted in me not enjoying it. But what about you, did you enjoy it? What about it did you enjoy? Let me know in the comments down below, I’d love to hear what you have to say. If you feel like being updated on when I post a new review, perhaps consider following this blog directly, or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. Thank you so much for reading my review, it truly does mean so much to me that you did!