The Harry Potter franchise is one of my favorite worlds to visit in all of fiction. Having read the books well over 15 times all the way through (and listened to them even more), and watched the films countless times, this world is dear to me more so than any other franchise. So when it was announced that JK Rowling would be writing another film set decades before the events of Harry Potter, I was immediately on board. Any excuse to visit this world again was fine by me.
Fantastic Beasts follows the story of Newt Scamander (who, Harry Potter fans know is the man who wrote one of the textbooks that the students of Hogwarts use in one of their classes) who has ventured to New York with a secret task. Once in New York, things immediately begin to fall apart for Newt. He meets Tina, a member of MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States) who apprehends him for breaking Magical Law in America by using magic in front of a "No-Maj" (or Muggle) named Jacob Kowalski. He tries to explain to her that he has something important to do, and that as soon as he finishes he will go back to Britain. Tina, having been demoted from the ranks of Investigative Team to the Minor Offense office, brings Newt to the President of the Magical Community, who, after seeing Tina, turns them both away without hearing a word. Tina decides, then, to take Mr. Kowalski and Newt back to her apartment for the night while she figures out what to do next; where they meet Tina's sister, Queenie.
Queenie is one of the better characters in the film, and she isn't given enough time to truly shine. She and Jacob Kowalski's interactions are some of the funnier moments in the film, but they're both so underutilized it feels like a bit of a waste.
The film is a bit of a mess; unfortunately. With no real, imminent threat, the pacing is off. It seems like every half hour, there's a new threat to take care of. This being the start of a five film series, there is an underlining threat of Grindelwald being ever present, which is an intriguing prospect. It seems to be lacking focus, and it's more of an issue with the direction than it is the writing. David Yates returns from directing the last 4 Harry Potter films, and he's signed on to direct all of the Fantastic Beast sequels. He's a vet of the franchise, and he seemed to get stronger as he went with the Harry Potter films. I hope that's the case here.
On the note of Grindelwald, it's a story I've been intrigued by since reading the Deathly Hallows all those years ago. With the rumors of Johnny Depp playing Grindelwald swirling around, and then JK Rowling confirming the rumors days before the release of the film, I wasn't sure how to feel. I personally don't care for Johnny Depp, and knowing that he will be playing one of the most important characters of the franchise worried me. After seeing the film, I'm still worried. Depp tends to inject too much of himself in his roles, and after seeing his portrayal, even for a short cameo, this seems to be no different. There are four more films, so things could change.
Something the Harry Potter films always shined at were the effects, and Fantastic Beasts is no different. Each creature is so well rendered that it's hard to tell which are practical effects and which are digital. The world looks so vivid and perfectly realized that 1920's New York feels alive. I've always been interested in what Magic would look like in America, and we know get to see it. I've read quite a bit about it on Pottermore, but actually seeing it is something very special.
Fantastic Beasts is a good introduction to this new world, and I feel like my expectations were a bit high. I knew this had nothing to do with Harry Potter or his adventures and that this only took place in that same world; but maybe I hadn't reinforced that idea enough. To truly enjoy this film, get rid of the Harry Potter fandom and start new.
All images courtesy of Warner Bros.