Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them SPOILER-FREE Review

I am not a very big fan of Harry Potter. I read all the books and watched all the movies, but I just never got into the craze like everyone else did. It's something that just didn't have a ton of appeal for me. So with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a Harry Potter spin-off film, set to come out, I didn't really have plans to see it. It wasn't something that interested me, so I planned just to skip this one. However, things worked out and I went to go see it, with modest expectations. I had heard a lot of good things about it from the critics, and I was just wanting to be entertained. Harry Potter wasn't my thing, but maybe Fantastic Beasts could do something for me. So I went in with moderate expectations, hoping that it would end up surprising me, and really it did. Fantastic Beasts has its problems, but it is incredibly accessible to those not steeped in Harry Potter lore, and is overall a very entertaining movie to watch. 

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a wizard biologist who travels to New York in order to conduct business. But when some of the creatures from his briefcase get loose and scatter all over the city, Newt must embark on a journey with a few people he meets along the way to find them all.

One thing I did appreciate about the Harry Potter movies was the creativity behind it. While it wasn't necessarily my thing, I do give a lot of credit to the mind of J.K. Rowling, and all the ingenuity that went into creating that world. None of that is lost with Fantastic Beasts. This movie goes to incredible lengths to create new lore and highly imaginative imagery. Some of the visuals are absolutely stunning. There's this entire sequence when we see what's inside Newt's briefcase that was incredible. I think it was my favorite part of the movie, simply because of how much raw imagination was put into it. Rowling wrote the screenplay for this film, her debut was a screenwriter, and I thought she did an impressive job. Not only did she retain the creativity she brought to the books, but she told a competent story. I had some narrative issues that I'll get into later, but overall I thought she did a fine job writing this movie. 

The performances are good, though nothing really stands out. Eddie Redmayne did a good job leading the film. I love his work in movies like The Theory of Everything, so I was excited to see what he brought to the table here. He doesn't give an Oscar worthy performance or anything like that, but he does a well enough job in carrying the film. Dan Fogler and Katherine Waterson work good as supporting characters, and Fogler especially at being the comedic relief. It doesn't come into play too much to overstay its welcome, but just enough to keep the scenes light. I also appreciated how Fantastic Beasts didn't try to constantly reference the Harry Potter films. There are certain tie-ins that just make sense, but nothing is shoe-horned in. One of my main criticisms with The Hobbit movie was that it was littered with The Lord of the Rings references, constantly hearkening back to those films, as if it was afraid to be it's own film. With Fantastic Beasts, it never reverts back to that, but instead stands confidently as an independent series. 

There are some story problems, however. The pacing varies from time-to-time, spending too much time on one thing, or not enough on another. But the main problem was the scale. The first two thirds of the film are very small scale and personal, revolving mostly around Newt finding his creatures. But the third act turns into a much more, end-of-the-world kind of scenario that seemed out of place for the rest of the movie that had proceeded it. And the story itself wasn't entirely compelling. It needed more going on. It's about Newt's search for his lost creatures, but that's not enough of a story to warrant two and a half hours. It needed a much more dynamic narrative, and it needed to be more consistent on with the size of the scale. The villain of the film also felt tacked on. It's not really developed much throughout the movie, and then all of a sudden it just shows up near the end. It wasn't a bad villain per say, but it could have been developed and utilized a lot better. 

Overall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a pleasant surprise for a person who's not a fan of the Harry Potter films. It's entertaining and fun, and is very accessible for those not overly steeped in lore. It doesn't constantly refer to the Harry Potter movies, but instead works to create its own self-sufficient universe. The ingenuity behind Harry Potter isn't lost with this one, and J.K. Rowling does a great job of bringing back that classic creativity. The performances are all pretty good, though no one stands out among the rest. The film does have some pacing issues, and the story gets kind of muddled in terms of how large the scale of the movie is. The villain does feel tacked on in the end. The CGI is also 50/50. Some scenes it looked incredible, and I completely forgot it was made by a computer. Other times I could see right through it. But in the end, Fantastic Beasts is a fun movie to go see, for those who are Harry Potter fans and those who aren't. I'm interested in seeing more, but I don't think we need to see four more sequels. That, I feel, is a little overboard! 


What do you think? Have you seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? Did you like the film? Leave your (spoiler-free) thoughts in the comments section below. 

Written by: Nate
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