Written By Jacob Chimilar (@sweetlows)
Fantastic Beasts has arrived the same week that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was released in 2001. A lot has changed since then, fans have grown up with Potter and seen the conclusion. We haven't really seen anything outside of his narrative within the same universe until now. It's a bit of a gamble on Warner Bros part. The fact they were able to get back much of the team that worked on the previous was a positive sign and having J.K. Rowling handling the screenplay pushing Steve Kloves over to producer was an interesting choice as Kloves was really good at adapting Rowling's work into a more streamlined narrative.
The story follows Newt Scamander a magizoologist who travelling to the US for a particular creature. On the way he makes a stop in New York where he bumps into a muggle named Kowalski. Newt's magical case and the muggle's get swapped and he unwillingly lets loose various creatures into New York and it's up to Newt to get them all back.
This movie keeps a similar flavor and tone to the Harry Potter series without using it as a crutch. They don't constantly reference the other films in winks and nods. However it lacks the diverse cast of likable characters that made those books and movies great. They just don't exhibit the same depth and complexity that Potter characters have been able to achieve. It also lacks that mythical quality of a chosen one and an enemy to defeat. It feels like a story that should have been told over several parts to allow the characters to stretch their legs given that it is going to be 5 films. As it was the plot felt a bit over stuffed with things it wanted to do, something Kloves was good at fixing. There are moments I really enjoyed and most of that had to do with the character of Newt who was by far the most interesting and likable. Kowalski was a a great foil to Newt but his talent is spoiled when he get poisoned by one of the beasts losing some valuable interaction time. I would have liked to have seen more of their friendship. Queenie was also quite fun to watch as a mischievous witch who befriends Kowalski.
The other plot this film tries is one that I felt was not part of Newt's journey and was more of a rehash of a plot in Deathly Hallows with the prosecution of wizards in the real world. It throws in an interesting twist but one that didn't seem suited to the universe. Another strike against it weirdly is having it be set in America. Something about it not being people with English accents in a far away castle took away from that magic, but that feels more like a regional bias than anything.
The story could have used a edit or two to trim things down or expand on characters because it really started to drag for me and didn't pick back up until the end but in a way that felt more like a thing that happens to Newt but did not need Newt in order for it to happen. There are plenty of wizards in New York the addition of Newt didn't bring anything and I think that's the films weakness. If this didn't have a connection to Potter it would just seem like a Potter knockoff. It lacks the heart and drama that made that series great.
This isn't a bad film it's just not a particularly engaging one. It has sparks of something interesting, the cast is game, Eddie especially and they did a good job visually and musically evoking that world but it still felt like a movie that happened to wonder onto a Potter set and started shooting. I hope they work out the kinks in the next films because it's off to a bit of a rocky start.