Nineteen years ago, J. K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone if you’re American) and began one of the most popular book and movie franchises in history. On Nov. 18, Harry Potter fans from far and wide can see the ninth movie within Rowling’s magical universe. It was also recently announced that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them would be the first movie in a series of five. So, expect another magical journey into the wizarding world every two years for the next decade.
Rowling makes her screenwriting debut, alongside David Yates (director of the last four Harry Potter movies), with Fantastic Beasts, based on the companion book of the same name. Set in 1926, this is a prequel to the original series. The film’s main character, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), has just arrived in New York City after traveling around the world gathering research for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, his book on Magizoology, the study of magical creatures.
His stay in New York is intended to be brief, as he is on his way to Arizona to release Frank, a Thunderbird, after rescuing him from Egyptian traffickers. Scamander is quickly side-tracked, however, after a run-in with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Kowalski is a No-Maj, which is short for No-Magic, the American term for muggle. After accidentally swapping his briefcase full of magical creatures for Kowalski’s conveniently identical briefcase full of pastries, many of the creatures are released. Newt, while trying to retrieve his lost creatures, is pursued by Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an ex-Auror from MACUSA (the American counterpart to the Ministry of Magic) seeking to arrest him for ownership of magical creatures, an act that has been outlawed in the United States.
Meanwhile, Kowalski shares a “romance” with the other Goldstein sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) a “bombshell” legilimens (mind reader) more than a little reminiscent of everyone’s favorite animal advocate, Luna Lovegood. At the same time, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) searches for an Obscurus with the help of Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), adopted son of abusive Second Salemer/witch hunter Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). All of this takes place under the shadowy threat of Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), the “Voldemort” of the 1920s.
Fantastic Beasts is a movie with many plot arcs. As the first in this proposed series, it does suffer from the “origin story problem” because it is forced to set up the universe that it takes place in. Some of the burden is lifted because audiences already understand magic from the previous eight films, but due to its being set in an earlier time period, a multitude of characters have to be introduced and explained for the benefit of audience members who haven’t spent hours on Harry Potter Wiki.
The movie is two hours and 13 minutes long, and it seems like the majority is spent on world-building. It’s still very enjoyable, though, especially when the movie treats viewers to scenes with the wide variety of magical creatures within Newt’s briefcase. The creatures are computer-generated, but rendered beautifully, as they should be if the title of the movie has anything to say about it. The plot arcs don’t feel too confusing most of the time, and they do all intertwine with each other, so the transitions between them aren’t noticeably forced.
Fantastic Beasts is a good movie. It has all of the fun and adventure of a Harry Potter movie—but it isn’t a Harry Potter movie. There are certainly plenty of nostalgic moments, Easter eggs, and nods to the previous franchise. But, somehow, it doesn’t hit with the emotional impact that the later Harry Potter movies do. There is certainly, however, a comparison to be made between Fantastic Beasts and the first two Harry Potter movies. Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets are not the best movies in the first series, yet the series as a whole was great.
Despite the weaknesses of Fantastic Beasts, it sets up a magical world in which the storyline can only get stronger.
Featured Image By Warner Bros. Pictures