Rating: 3 out of 5
Last weekend I finally got around to watching the latest Harry Potter film, and now I'm finally getting around to writing my review. It's easy to explain why I've been dragging my feet: I'm still perplexed why this movie was made, even though I know the only reason is the metric ton of cold, hard cash that it generated (over $600M to be exact).
The original Fantastic Beasts book, along with its companion Quidditch Through the Ages, was published in 2001 to support Comic Relief, the British charity of "Red Nose Day" fame created to alleviate global poverty.
I remember reading Fantastic Beasts fondly when I was a kid, because I was obsessed with anything HP-related, but now I'm just mind-boggled that Hollywood can take a tiny encyclopedia of magical creatures and develop a multi-movie series out of it.
Fantastic Beasts is the Hogwarts magizoology textbook written by Newt Scamander. The film follows Newt's visit to New York City in the 1920s, where he must re-capture a few of his furry friends after they escape his magical suitcase.
Nothing about this backstory is included in the book. Instead, Rowling develops her screenplay using information provided by her online lexicon Pottermore. She weaves Newt's travels with the more menacing tale of Gellert Grindewald, the love interest of Dumbledore who ultimately betrays him and becomes the most dangerous dark wizard prior to Voldemort's rising.
Unfortunately, we'll have to wait for that story to develop in the sequels as Grindewald is only discussed briefly in the film until the particularly famous actor who plays him makes a cameo at the end.
Instead, you learn about Newt's struggle to advocate for animal rights in America, a country which frankly is a lot less exciting when it comes to magic. Wizardry is mysterious and intriguing when it's associated with the castles and robes and other medieval elements of the Old World. Surrounded instead by high rises and noisy cars, the "otherness" of this universe is lost.
Don't get me wrong: the script is great, the plot is fine, and actors do a wonderful job giving dimension to their characters. I especially look forward to Ezra Miller's career taking off, because he is an absolute gem (you'll know him from "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and his new role as The Flash in the DC franchise).
I certainly enjoyed this movie, but I was hyper-aware that this series is meant for the next generation of Harry Potter fans. Much like "Sorcerer's Stone, it's a kids' movie with the potential to grow into something grittier and darker but has pretty low stakes right now. Even the fantastic beasts, though cute and fun, weren't that innovative but rather weird combos of animals already walking this earth (bird + snake = Occamy, mole + platypus = Niffler, etc.).
All in all, this movie gets a resounding "okay" from me. It was good enough that I'll continue watching the sequels, which is exactly what Warner Bros. expects. I think that I speak for all fans that we'd rather see a Marauders prequel, but we'll take what we can get.