Movie Review: 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'

Five years after the last Harry Potter film was released, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them reminded fans that J.K. Rowling’s magic lives forever. Originally thought to be a spinoff of the popular series, Fantastic Beasts revealed itself to be a prequel to the original story, revolving around a storyline that fans who read the books are all too familiar with.

To those who do not know, Fantastic Beasts also took inspiration from a book by J.K. Rowling, however it is not a novel. Somewhere in the middle of writing the series, Rowling released two books titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through The Ages that are basically library books one would find in the Hogwarts library. Inside the books, we see handwritten notes and doodles from students who checked the books out, as well as details and descriptions. The book Fantastic Beasts is simply a list of descriptions and facts about all the magical beasts in the wizarding world, put together by the film’s protagonist Newt Scamander.

This helped the film a great deal. With the other Harry Potter films, fans had something to compare the films too. That is to say, they had something longer, more complete, and more concise to look at. With Fantastic Beasts, we meet the characters for the first time on the big screen and watch their story unfold.

The main characters are Newt Scamander, Tina and Queenie Goldstein (an ex-MCUSA Auror and her legilimens sister) and No-Maj (muggle) Jacob Kowalski. In the end, all of these characters must come together to help Newt. Well, it’s not that simple. Tina is trying to arrest him, Jacob gets attacked by one of his creatures, and Queenie is just along for the ride. Of course, throughout the film they develop relationships that will last throughout the series.

The inclusion of a No-Maj in the core group was an excellent choice, as audience members get to place themselves in Jacob’s shoes and therefore in the story. The same can be said about American wizardry, especially as fans learn more about the American wizarding school Ilvermorny. The most refreshing thing about this story, however, is Newt. Fans have never had a chance to see a happy, carefree protagonist–Harry Potter was born into a life of misery that he took years to escape, while Newt is a happy and loving Hufflepuff who just wants to research and help his beasts.

Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller take on the darker characters, Percival Graves and Credence Barebone, respectively. While we don’t know which way they’re going to turn throughout the film, in the end their depth and complexity comes through brilliantly. The actors deserve high praise for what they achieved with these characters.

The film takes a look into the world of American magic. J.K. Rowling, always one to have deeper meanings in what she writes, has created a world in 1920s New York that is eerily similar to the political dystopia that is the United States right now, especially post-election. The Magical Congress of the United States of America (MCUSA), so desperate to keep wizard/No-Maj relationships non-existent, keeps track of every wizard and witch’s move. To add on to this, an anti-magic coalition protests across the city, calling for a new Salem witch trials.

Going into the film, many assumed it would be short and sweet: Newt accidentally sets the beasts free in New York, Newt uses magic and friends to find them, happy ending. Then a few months ago, Rowling announced that there would be five films total and fans wondered what would fill the time. As it turns out, a lot. Before Voldemort, the wizarding world’s biggest problem was Gellert Grindelwald, Albus Dumbledore’s best friend who turned to the dark side, if you will. His history is mentioned sporadically throughout the books, and now fans get to hear the full story.

A lot of questions were left unanswered, and unfortunately fans have to wait another two years for more, yet we have all put our faith in Rowling for so long that we know the wait will be worthwhile. Regardless, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a must-see for anybody who needs a little more magic in their lives.