It’s been over five years since the last film in the Harry Potter franchise was released, but the Wizarding World has just returned with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, JK Rowling’s first original screenplay that tells the story of Newt Scamander, an English magizoologist who has just arrived to New York in the 1920s, with a case full of magical creatures. When this case is misplaced and all those beasts escape, he must find all of them before they cause trouble in the coexistence of wizards and muggles. This is the first movie in the Harry Potter universe that is not based in a novel, and therefore, fans all over the world are eager to know whether this prequel will hold up to their expectations… Let’s find out.
David Yates returns to the Wizarding World as the director of Fantastic Beasts, after his experience directing the last four movies of the Harry Potter franchise (that is, from The Order of the Phoenix on). His job on those movies was mediocre at best, as the vision he offered was unoriginal, lacked creativity and more importantly, seemed to have no soul. This was especially obvious after the previous movies, particularly Prisoner of Azkaban, which had been beautifully directed by Alfonso Cuarón, and accomplished to add to the stories by using the cinematographic language in their favour, rather than just trying to portray the pages of the books chapter by chapter.
This time, however, working on a completely original screenplay, Yates’ direction seems to be less sloppy and it works pretty well, even if he sticks to the established guidelines most of the time. The pacing is also a bit too irregular, too, as it feels very inconsistent when exposition scenes are abruptly interrupted with action-packed moments, only to return to another exposition scene shortly after.
It is important for such a film to work on itself, as we are bombarded with prequels, sequels, spin-offs and remakes that rely solely on the original movies, so it was nice to see such a solid new story. This doesn’t mean there is no fan service, as some very welcome references can be found every now and then. JK Rowling did a fantastic job when coming up with a story that is both complete on its own and original, and following the events on screen is, indeed, a joyful experience. However, the need to introduce a Voldemort-like villain is a misstep, since this character, Grindelwald, does very little in favour of the feature film. Instead, it seems to be a device for three things: to set up the next 4 movies (yes, there will be four more of these); not to face the risks of a more original, villain-less script; and to serve as a redemption for Newt after the mess his creatures create in New York, in order him to be easily identified as a hero by the viewers. It creates the feeling that two very different films are going on at once, one being the beasts bit, and the other being the Grindelwald set-up. It was a lazy choice to include him in this movie, but due to the actor that portrays him, many movie-goers will be positively surprised.
The rest of the characters work pretty well, especially Newt, our protagonist, who in addition to being perfectly portrayed by Eddie Redmayne, results in a very complete and interesting character, with enough backstory for him to be relatable, and a charismatic personality. Tina’s character, who helps Newt in his quest, is pretty good too, but rather shallow. It will be interesting to see how she develops in future entries to the franchise, without a doubt. Finally, Kowalski, a muggle who finds himself involved in an affair with creatures he didn’t know existed, is a cliche made character. He works as the audience character, as he receives lots of explanations so that viewers hear them too. He also is the comedic relief in Fantastic Beasts, with most of his jokes being overly simplistic and unfunny.
Relationships among characters were incredibly dull. Really predictable love stories and unoriginal movie-friendships reveal that JK Rowling, while having great ideas for stories, has little experience on screenplay writing. Let’s hope future flicks will bring a breath of fresh air to the theatres the same way the Harry Potter movies did.
Visually, the movie is stunning, as everyone expected. It relies almost solely in CGI, but most of the time, it looks very realistic. The 1920s’ New York City looks perfect in the few wide shots we get. Destruction is also incredibly done, every brick looks real when a building collapses, every shattered glass seems to be there whenever a window explodes. The creatures’ design is simply awesome, very very creative. They look quite realistic too, the effort done in visual effects is obvious. However, since they used no practical effects, there are some weird visuals when a character touches a beast, and it is very obvious that the actors are just waving their hands in the air. The choice to have every creature be created in CGI was quite poor too, as the goblin featured in the film looks terrible when compared to the ones found in Gringotts in the Harry Potter movies.
I left the theatre with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is surprising the little amount of major flaws the movie has, especially when compared to the previous Yates films. On the other, having such a creative story and universe feel so dull on screen is quite revealing. Characters are interesting, visually it is excellent, the script works properly… Yet it doesn’t feel the way it should. It doesn’t achieve to be heart-touching, or to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. It tries to create lots of different emotions, but none of them is delivered properly. It is a fun experience, but in the end, nothing transcends. It feels like watching a magician perform while knowing the secrets. Lots of things can be said about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but the most significant one is that, simply put, the movie lacks magic. And there is no spell in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that can solve that problem. 5/10