REVIEW: ‘Fantastic Beasts’ Offers Some Excitement But Not Much Else

After seven books and eight movies, the “Harry Potter” franchise seemingly came to a close in 2011. The door to that universe was reopened last weekend, though, with the prequel “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

However, this flick didn’t quite capture the passion, wonder and most of all storytelling ability that its predecessors did.

The film follows the character Newt (Eddie Redmayne) a researcher and writer who travels the world studying and protecting various beasts of the magical world. The movie picks up as his travels bring him to the United States.

His antics upon arrival land him in some issues, though, as he reveals the magical world to a muggle named Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and subsequently gets the attention of Tina (Katherine Waterston) a person who’s been demoted in the U.S. Ministry of Magic. As this develops, Newt’s journey starts crossing paths with that of a nefarious plot.

The biggest issue with “Fantastic Beasts” is how entirely disjointed it all is. Newt’s journey throughout New York City, whether it be interacting with his new friend Kowalski or recapturing some of the creatures that were accidentally set lose, are almost completely unconnected to the events of the film’s core conflict.

While the antagonistic characters of the picture are in fact developed from the first act, they don’t really cross paths with the protagonists in a meaningful way until the last third, and this is done more through chance.

As a result, when Newt is searching for the missing beasts in the city the stakes feel quite low and when the final conflict with the film’s villain occurs, there’s almost nothing to get engaged in. The characters are simply too far removed from each other for the film to have a meaningful resolution.

Another issue in the movie came from the its lead character, Newt. Unlike Harry Potter, who often shared the audience’s wonder and curiosity for the magical world, Newt is already familiar with everything and in a way almost seems a bit bored with it.

There is a nice moment where he’s talking about how he wants to take care of the beasts and protect them rather than have them just abused by wizards, but this is just a small sequence. For much of the film, Newt almost seems disinterested. It’s too bad, since Redmayne is a very talented actor, but his character here just comes across as having little to no passion or energy.

A saving grace, though, is Kowalski. Fogler likely gives the best performance of his career in “Fantastic Beasts,” playing a hard working New Yorker who is shocked, amazed and even a bit frightened by the magical world. Fogler nails this part of the character as well as the side of Kowalski that wants to help Newt. Despite his fear of the unknown, Kowalski sees that Newt is a good person and decides to work together with the wizard.

Also giving a good performance was Alison Sudol, who played Tina’s sister Queenie. The character is one full of quirks and Sudol makes sure to have a lot of fun with the eccentric role. When either Sudol or Fogler is on screen, the movie goes gets raised a couple notches in enjoyment.

An additional positive aspect in “Fantastic Beasts” are the visuals and the expansion of the wizarding world. The film is able to bring to life the American side of the magical world by showing off its headquarters in New York City and also displaying some of the differences from its U.K. counterpart.

This coincided with the movie also being a period piece, showing off the Big Apple in the 1920s. The cars, clothing and locations are all on point for the time it takes place.

The script, written by HP novelist J.K. Rowling, also included some solid moments of dialogue. Whether they be dramatic or humorous, there were some solid lines that were meaningful when delivered.

Overall, “Fantastic Beasts” is like a nice dessert for those who are craving a return to the wizarding world. It has excitement and entertainment value in its humor, action and some of its characters. However, its lead protagonist is unmemorable, its story doesn’t flow well and the picture ultimately doesn’t capture what the rest of the franchise did. 3 out of 5.

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Author: Matthew Liedke

My name is Matthew Liedke. I'm a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer in Minnesota, but I also have a passion for the art of film. This passion led me to start writing about film in 2008. From 2008-2016 I wrote pieces at my own website, After the Movie Reviews. Then, from 2016-May 2018, my write-ups were featured on AreaVoices, a blog network run by Forum Communications Company. Today, I now write film reviews and other pieces here on Word Press. More about me: I'm a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead where I studied journalism and film. Outside of film, I enjoy sports, video games, anime and craft beers.

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