In recent years, one of the biggest new franchise to emerge is Harry Potter. With its tale of a young boy learning of witchcraft and wizardry while faced with a major destiny before him, the series of books clicked fast with readers and made a household name of J.K. Rowling. That fandom grew even more with the film adaptations, which managed to largely capture the spirit of their source material with a skilled cast and crew. Even though the series has come to a close, the wizarding world still enchants its fans. It is only natural to revisit this world with a new line of films. After all, the world that J.K. Rowling had created has so many nooks and crannies to explore, so much history to examine. Of course, sometimes the potential for fascinating stories can risk the chance of being corrupted by the desire for steady money from a franchise. Such feels like the case here, unfortunately, for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. What could have been a fun film is instead hampered down by building blocks for future films in the line.
The year is 1927. The Wizarding World finds itself embroiled in the rise of a dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald, whose series of attacks against non-magic people threaten to expose the Wizarding World’s existence. In particular, the American wizarding community finds itself teetering on the brink as a mysterious force causes incredible damage in New York City. It is this world where Newt Scamander finds himself, as he travels the world writing a book about magical creatures. During his stop in New York City, he ends up crossing paths with an aspiring baker and non-magic person named Jacob Kowalski. An accident causes the two of them to mistakenly take each other’s suitcases, with Jacob ending up with Newt’s magic suitcase. This suitcase is far bigger on the inside, serving as a personal zoo and transport case for all sorts of magical animals. Unfortunately, some of these animals manage to get loose and bring havoc to the city. Desperate to protect these creatures from potential harm, Newt brings Jacob in tow as they set out to reclaim the animals, with a pair of sisters named Tina and Queenie Goldstein joining them along the way. Unfortunately, their activities have caught the attention of an auror named Percival Graves, who believes that Newt’s animals might have something to do with the series of destructive attacks around the city.
Now, there are some good points to this film. Eddie Redmayne does a fine job as Newt Scamander, capturing his somewhat eccentric feel along with his deep compassion for the natural world. Dan Fogler is a real delight in the film, working well as the audience surrogate in Jacob Kowalski. He is by turns shocked and amazed by the wonders of the Wizarding World, but he embraces this newfound world with a twinkle in his eye and enthusiasm in his action. Unfortunately, the film itself is really hampered by its muddled approach. In addition to the main story about Newt reclaiming his animals, there are subplots that explore a variety of elements. From the anti-magic activity of the New Salem Preservation Society to the growing threat of Grindelwald and his followers, the plot is muddled up in so many strings that serve only to be explored in later films. This desire to set up all of these threads is done in a way that also robs the film of room where it could have explored and developed its characters, leaving plenty of them feeling rather flat and under-developed. When added up with sequences that do not have that spark of real fun and inventiveness which the Harry Potter series had possessed, the result is a film that had honestly bored me at points. Perhaps this might have been avoided if there were more of a focus on this film, rather than trying to cram in the building blocks for a whole franchise.
As I mentioned before, the Wizarding World offers plenty of strong material that could be explored and examined in future stories. For instance, plenty of the threads in this film could have been their own films. A tale of Newt having to reclaim his animals would have worked fine on its own. The story of Grindelwald’s rise to power and the eventual war that encircles it could make for ripe material for perhaps a trilogy. Even a story about the New Salem Preservation Society could offer an interesting springboard, looking at persecution and hate which can arise against witches and wizards. However, these strands have not been given that breathing room. Instead, they have all been crammed together in one film as a means of propping up a line of movies. I feel that this is a mistake, for it means putting all of these eggs into a singular basket. If the basket breaks, then so do all of these eggs. What would have been better would be to have given these different aspects their own films, allowing them room to breathe and grow. In essence, it would be a Wizarding World Cinematic Universe. With such an approach, Warner Bros. could have been able to continue making movies in the world of Harry Potter while allowing for films tailored with different styles and subjects. Instead, these separate pieces have been crammed into a dull mixture.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could have been an interesting film, had it kept itself more focused on a singular story. Instead, it has been hampered by being made into a hodgepodge of threads solely there for later movies.