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Augustana Observer

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I was more than a little skeptical while walking into Fantastic Beasts. None of the trailers seemed very impressive. And as a former Potter fanatic, I was wary of the franchise being dragged out of retirement to become yet another Hollywood “cinematic universe”. Surprisingly, I left the theater with a smile on my face, as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a great, if somewhat flawed film.
The person to thank the most for this is none other than J.K. Rowling herself, who finally stepped up to not just produce, but also write the screenplay. As any fan of the Harry Potter book series can tell you, Rowling is a master at creating vibrant and imaginative worlds with compelling, lovable characters. In Fantastic Beasts, she once again uses her boundless creativity to pull us back into the wizarding world with a fresh new set of interesting characters. Everyone in the main cast does an excellent job of bringing the story to life. Eddie Redmayne shines as Newt Scamander, a wizard zoologist who must track down a group of magical creatures running loose in 1926 New York City. Redmayne gives Newt a wonderful sense of charm and humor without becoming too silly. Newt is quirky, but also reserved enough so that he doesn’t become distracting. Dan Fogler also stands out as Jacob, a no-maj (muggle) who is swept up into Newt’s adventures by accident. Much like Redmayne, Fogler brings a lot of heart and fun into the story, and his character serves an important purpose as the movie’s emotional backbone.
David Yates returns to helm this movie after directing the previous four Harry Potter films, and his style fits perfectly with the wizarding world of J.K. Rowling. Out of all the behind-the-scenes talent, production designer Stuart Craig impresses the most. Like his previous work on the series, Craig’s work on the sets of Fantastic Beasts is stunning. Every location is filled with detail and care, and Rowling’s script comes to life in spectacular fashion. The movie also takes full advantage of its period setting. The 1920’s aesthetic helps give Fantastic Beasts a unique feeling that sets it apart from the rest of the franchise.
Something I really appreciated about this film is its self-contained plot. You don’t have to be an expert on Harry Potter lore to understand and appreciate the story. While there are references to characters from previous stories, they feel organic and supportive to the current narrative. The end of the movie is satisfying, and the final moments are especially sweet. Unlike other big blockbusters of the past few years, Fantastic Beasts feels complete and able to stand on its own.
Unfortunately, the movie is not perfect. The most glaring issue is the villain sub-plot. The movie struggles to fully connect Newt’s story with that of the antagonist. I won’t spoil who the villain actually is, but their evil plan feels out of place in a movie about cute magical creatures. The tone of Fantastic Beasts is overall inconsistent. In one moment it’s a fun, cutesy adventure. And in the next moment, it’s a dark, somewhat disturbing drama. These intense story elements would feel appropriate if the characters involved were more developed, but sadly that isn’t the case. The conflict in the second half centering around dark wizards and destructive magic just feels sub-par compared to Newt’s creatures and his interactions with the other main characters.
Despite its narrative flaws in the second and third acts, I still had an absolute blast with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The creativity and passion poured into this film from everyone involved is inspiring, and Rowling’s script actually reminded me of why I fell in love with her stories in the first place. The Harry Potter series is filled with so much imagination and depth. Fantastic Beasts continues this tradition and delivers a new story worthy of the legendary series it belongs to. Check it out if you haven’t already, you’re sure to be in for a good time!

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Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them