Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A Review

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There are obviously going to be spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in this article, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t read on. You’ve been warned.

So I went into the theater not knowing what to expect. With the Harry Potter series I had always read the books beforehand, so I had an idea of what was coming. This time I had no plot points to look out for, and throughout the movie I wasn’t searching for the parts they didn’t include. On the downside, however, I found it a bit more difficult to follow without a book, particularly because the movie was so plot-heavy.

The film opened with the classic Warner Brothers label accompanied by Hedwig’s theme, which instantly brought back memories to any Harry Potter fan. The audience is then introduced to Newt Scamander, a shy, awkward, but adorable magizoologist played by Eddie Redmayne. Scamander has a briefcase full of fantastic creatures, which, of course, escape to wreak havoc on New York City.

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Although there are many light and humorous scenes, like Scamander chasing his mischievous niffler, or Jacob Kowalski being chased by an Erumpent, I couldn’t help but notice the darkness in Fantastic Beasts. Where Harry Potter took several movies to reach this level of dark material, Fantastic Beasts dives right in. Rowling takes no time to introduce the anti-wizarding group, the Second Salemers, who preach hatred and intolerance towards the wizarding world. Mary Lou Barebone, the leader of the Second Salemers, has a collection of “rescued” children which she uses to spread her propaganda. She often abuses them, leaving cuts on their hands. At least twice in the movie one of her “children,” Modesty, is seen chanting eerie songs about killing witches, something that seems like a scene straight out of a horror film. Rowling also introduces us to something called an obscurus, a dark force that results from children being forced to repress their magic, which breaks out to wreak havoc and cause several grisly deaths. There is certainly a stark difference in the level of intensity between the first Harry Potter movie and the first Fantastic Beasts movie. If Fantastic Beasts follows the same pattern as Harry Potter, we can certainly expect things to get a lot darker.

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This level of darkness may have stemmed from the fact that the main characters were adults, not students. Rowling may have been trying to appeal to some of the original Harry Potter fans, who are adults and college students now.

Unfortunately I felt as though we didn’t get to learn as much about the characters as I would have liked. Rowling’s characters are an eclectic bunch with a lot of potential, but we don’t get to know them that well within this first movie. We know next to nothing about Scamander’s background, although his Hagrid-like passion for animals and quirky nature makes him instantly likeable. Even though we get glimpses of Tina’s past during the execution scene, where she intervened with the abusive Mary Lou Barebone, we don’t know much of her history, or what exactly makes her tick. Queenie gets the least amount of screen time, which was unfortunate because I found her character and ability as a legilimens intriguing. Although she can read minds to understand those around her, she herself remains a mystery. Jacob seems to be the character we know the most about. We know he despises his job at the canning factory and aspires to make people happy by opening a bakery, although he lacks the funds. His astonishment at the wizarding world certainly makes the movie, but I’m still curious as to why Rowling revealed so much about his character while she kept the others so mysterious.

By the end of the first book (or movie) of Harry Potter I felt like I really knew and understood most of the characters, which I did not feel with Fantastic Beasts. Thankfully there will be more movies, so hopefully there will be a chance to learn more about these characters.

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Perhaps part of the reason for the lack of serious character development was because the film was incredibly plot heavy. There were plenty of action-packed scenes, villains, and schemes to keep the movie moving along. There were so many different plotlines; Grindelwald-Graves’ hunt for an obscurus, the Second Salemer’s movement, Mary Lou Barebones abuse of magical children, and Scamander’s struggle to recapture and protect his magical creatures, that it reminded me of the complexity of the Harry Potter series.

For me it was particularly difficult because there was no book for me to follow along with. I couldn’t imagine watching the Harry Potter movies without reading the books first, I know that I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of the movies without the books. I feel that I could have gotten a lot more out of this movie if there was a book ahead of time. At the very least, I’ll need to rewatch the movie.

    While Fantastic Beasts is certainly its own movie, there were brief moments where it was connected back to Harry Potter, such as the mention of the name Lestrange, references to Dumbledore and Hogwarts, and the deathly hallows necklace. I’m excited to see how Rowling will incorporate these things later.

Although it was a bit darker, older, and and certainly different, Fantastic Beasts has still kept the same magic as that of Harry Potter. The quirky characters, amazingly strange beasts, and the struggle between good and evil were what we loved about the Harry Potter series, all of which Fantastic Beasts has in ample supply.