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Review: ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is a welcoming return to the Potterverse

Review%3A+Fantastic+Beasts+and+Where+to+Find+Them+is+a+welcoming+return+to+the+Potterverse
Warner Bros. Pictures

After the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2” in 2011, devoted fans of J.K .Rowling’s beloved wizarding world shed a collective tear as they said goodbye to Harry and the gang, something we all knew was coming, but still couldn’t bring ourselves to face.

Although Harry’s time on screen may have come to an end, the magical world of witches and wizards still has stories left to tell, the latest of which comes in the new film “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” inspired by J.K. Rowling’s book of the same name.

The film serves as the first in a new series of five, and functions as a prequel to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts adventures. It tells the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a wizard from Britain who travels to America with a briefcase full of magical creatures every bit marvelous, magnificent and of course, fantastic.

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Rowling herself handled sole screenwriting duties and veteran Potter director David Yates remained in the director’s chair.

Scamander plans to write a book on these creatures, which we already know becomes “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” one of the textbooks Harry must read while at school.

After a brief mixup, Scamander accidentally swaps his suitcase with that of an aspiring baker named Mr. Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who then unknowingly sets several magical creatures loose upon New York City. Kowalski is a “no-maj” which we learn functions as the American term for “muggle” or non-magic person.

As evidenced by Harry, Ron and Hermione in the original films, all wizarding problems get more effectively managed with teamwork, and we see no difference here.

This time, the group consists of Scamander, Kowalski and Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a member of magical law enforcement. Together, they set out to find all of Newt’s escaped creatures before something terrible happens.

Right from the film’s start, it simply feels good to find yourself back in the Harry Potter universe, or Potterverse, as some call it.

Moving newspaper images, magic, wands, wizards, witches—for many, it will feel like a breath of fresh air just to return to that world.

Unfortunately, the film never comes close to living up to the standards set by the Harry Potter franchise.

Many of the on-screen creatures provide a heaping of visual eye candy, but this also becomes one of the film’s issues. Oftentimes, the creatures seem more interesting than the wizards and witches themselves.

Redmayne does a solid job as the quirky, doe-eyed Scamander, but the movie fails to give him much of a personality at all. By the end of the film it still feels like we know very little about him.

Fogler provides some comic relief as Mr. Kowalski and he has a pretty pivotal role throughout the film’s first half. In the second half though, his humor seems to have gotten old and he has no real purpose anymore, so he starts to feel like a side character still sticking around for no reason.

The installments in the Harry Potter series get darker and more intense as Harry and his friends grow up, but “Fantastic Beasts” offers this darkness and intensity right from the first installment, providing plenty of delightfully creepy characters.

One such character is Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a wizard who sees their kind as superior to non-magic folk. Another is an anti-witch cult leader and her many creepy children, one of which is an Obscurus, a concept revealed in the new film where a child basically gets possessed by dark forces, resulting from the suppression of one’s magical ability.

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It was very interesting to see Rowling’s vision of what America looks like in the magical world—something that we did not get to see in the original series.

Still, some of the characters seem flat and much of the dialogue sounds laughable. It seems as if Rowling’s writing talent may lie primarily on the page rather than the the screen.

However, the films’s fantastic creatures, solid enough performances and breezy pace serve as more than enough to keep viewers entertained, even if the film still can’t measure up to the original series.

Grade: B


Follow Alec Kuehnle on Twitter.


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