By PETE TEAGLE
With the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II” in summer of 2011, many Potterheads undoubtedly wondered what would become of a series of films that spanned a decade. Thankfully for fans of the iconic series, J.K. Rowling continued to develop her wizarding world in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
Though it does not follow the recognizable characters many fans have come to love, “Fantastic Beasts” serves as an effective and entertaining way to flesh out the universe of the series.
The story follows a young Newt Scamander, a conservationist of fantastic beasts whose missteps (which are not infrequent) make for moments of levity in a film that actually has some fairly dark moments. Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, arrives in 1920s New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures in the midst of a series of unexplained accidents that are terrorizing the muggle community. For much of the film Scamander tries to balance muggle Jacob Kowalski knowing too much, the oft-escaping magical creatures and the subsequent effort to recapture them.
The film alternates between two main storylines, one being Scamander’s misadventures and the other being a noticeably darker arc that focuses on a group called “The Second Salem,” who believes witchcraft is to blame for the mysterious events occurring throughout the city.
While the two storylines eventually cross, for much of the film the Scamander storyline deals with more hackneyed themes like friendship and finding one’s way in the world. Without giving too much away, the Second Salem storyline is somewhat of a foil to the Scamander story, addressing the difficulty found in navigating the world one was raised in as it relates to conflicting personal identity. This is not to say that “Fantastic Beasts” is a groundbreaking future classic, but it does make an attempt to do more than just wow audiences with the aesthetic of the universe.
With that being said, some aspects of the film can feel like they are flirting with cliché. The Scamander storyline features familiar tropes, a quiet outsider befriending a lovable loser after a series of misadventures.
Similarly, there are some scenes that use CGI as a bit of a crutch, attempting to impress the audience with artful creatures where character development could have occurred. However, since it is not clear whether this film will open the door for spinoffs or sequels, the slight lack of character depth and development is more forgivable. The film was also released in 3D, which feels somewhat hokey given that it isn’t 2005 anymore.
As someone who was indifferent to the Harry Potter film series, I still enjoyed the film. If this is the first of a series of live-action versions of other Hogwarts textbooks, I could easily see myself making the trip to the theatre. The film is successful because it is a known quantity in a world of increasingly “hit or miss” films and film sequels. Fans of the books and movies will appreciate a chance to revisit the wizarding world (even though it isn’t aboard the Hogwarts Express) and casual filmgoers can appreciate the engaging action sequences and impressive visuals. All in all, “Fantastic Beasts” is a solid 3.5/5.