The first of many Harry Potter prequels set to hit theaters over the next few years. Seventy years before Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place not at Hogwarts but New York in 1926. We are introduced to Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who is traveling to the U.S., and more specifically Arizona, to set one of his fantastic beasts free from his suitcase, an item he carries through the film. Many of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape and start to run amok. He needs the help of a no-maj named Jacob (Dan Fogler) to retrieve them.
“This movie feels awkwardly unbalanced. On one hand, it’s a lively, fast-paced adventure. Then, it takes a hard turn to real-life, dark, and horrifying acts, better suited for something you watch on Halloween. If this movie stayed a buddy comedy with Newt and Jacob trying to capture the animals that escaped, it could have been a far better movie. Three times, this movie cuts from an action scene to another with a religious fanatic apparently beating a child. Going from the over the top silliness to child abuse took me right out of the movie.” —Drew
“The visual elements are also not consistent. At points, everything feels real and tangible, as if they are on actual sets with real, practical effects. At other points, everything feels as if it is all green screen. It’s jarring when scenes do not match from one to the other, making it hard to stay immersed in the story. The worst point is when real actors interact with some of the CGI creatures. The acting and hand placement on the creatures does not line up, which lifts the veil of disbelief again.” —Jeff
“Being the first of five planned films, it’s easy to see all the storylines being thrown out for later films. Fantastic Beasts suffers from sins most fancied films do, sacrificing the current story to set up a huge ongoing narrative. Sometimes, this type of storytelling works. The Marvel movies do a really good job of making stand-alone movies fit in a bigger universe. Sadly, the MCU is the exception, and Fantastic Beasts falls short of that bar.” —Drew
“Setting this movie in America was a bold step, but the whole thing felt like an American remake that just couldn’t capture the allure of the original. What made the Harry Potter franchise so popular was its rich and developed stories and characters. There is so much lore, that many stories could be told about its vast created universe. This Americanized version felt like it tried to shoehorn in as much of that lore as possible. Coupled with the dumb American slapstick humor, the whole mess just felt like several good ideas mashed together that just didn’t work.” —Jeff
“It’s hard to feel any sense of wonderment from this movie, and I wouldn’t recommend this movie to anyone who doesn’t already have brand loyalty. I am not going to pretend that I am a Harry Potter fan. I have only seen the first two movies in the series, and this movie is on par with them. I will say the movie does a good job at not excluding newcomers while at the same time building on its already vast universe. ” —Drew
“So much of the nuance of the movie is aimed at Harry Potter fans. They do a good job of introducing the American names of things alongside the British versions we have been introduced to by constantly throwing little things at us to satisfy the fan base. But all of the references to Harry Potter go to show that this movie could not stand on its own without piggybacking on a successful franchise. It tries to do both but doesn’t do either.” —Jeff
It’s not a Harry Potter movie and does not stand by itself. At times, it’s a messy, uneven mash of both that feels long and is hard to enjoy. Die-hard fans of the franchise will find enough to satisfy, while newcomers won’t be totally lost, but it’s the worst J.K. Rowling-based movie to date, easily forgotten.
Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell
Score: 2 out of 5