J.K. Rowling has become something much more powerful than a name. She has crafted a world that has transported readers and viewers of all ages into another universe via the book franchise and the motion pictures. However, Rowling has managed to maintain her incredibly inspirational image in a way that has allowed many of us to believe in magic again; maybe not of the spell casting sort, but in perseverance and confidence. With the Harry Potter stories coming to a close, Rowling has brought audiences back many years before our introduction to this world of wizards in order to extend the universe that we all know and love.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a wizard from London, who has travelled to New York with nothing but a suitcase. Little do those around him realize, it contains an assortment of magical creatures. When they manage to escape, he must find them and return them to his suitcase before humans discover the world of magic.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place seventy years before Harry Potter, and far away from Hogwarts. Walking into the press screening, one huge question was on some of our minds - how will the film manage to engage audiences in this universe without the characters and story that proved to bring in such a large box office draw? Rowling introduces new personalities for us to latch onto, as well as some mentions of recognizable names and locations that will inevitably be important for Harry's journey in the future. Newt is initially a bit cold, although he opens up to be a relatively likable character by the end of the film. However, it's a bit difficult to judge our feelings towards these personalities, as it didn't take only one film or book to make us as attached to Harry and the group as we have become over the years. Nevertheless, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them reintroduces us to the world of wizards in a way that is certainly welcoming.
The real conflict in this particular film is found in seeking out the creatures that have escaped, and how it's connected to what is terrorizing the city. While Rowling plants obvious seeds of foreshadowing that lead us to the antagonist, don't expect many magic battles. There's a lot of talk about these beasts, yet it still never feels like we have much of a grasp on what they are. It's clear that Rowling wants us to develop an emotional connection with a few of them, especially as we learn Newt's reason for traveling to New York with this suitcase. Unfortunately, there isn't enough material with them to make us really see them as much more than entertaining creatures that occasionally make appearances on screen. Nevertheless, the film has a good use of social commentary regarding animal species endangerment. This is a strong theme that provides the feature with a bit more depth, even if it's odd that these beasts can leave this suitcase that is supposedly imbued with such powerful magic with ease.
Audiences are familiar with the rules of magic in London due to the setting of the Harry Potter franchise, although we come to learn that the laws overseas haven't always been the same. Some of these rules are quite different, while some words that we are familiar with are simply known by another name. The third act truly exposes this, as multiple plot lines begin to align. This includes the weakest material in the feature, which follows a woman with a great fear and hatred for witches and magic. Her adopted children assist her in spreading the word around the city, although much of this material takes us out of the tone that has been established with Newt and the group. However, it's clear that this is meant to set a few events in motion that will inevitably influence the world of magic's fate in the future.
Director David Yates of multiple Harry Potter films has returned behind the camera for this next step in Rowling's silver screen career. It should come as no surprise that he has once again successfully captured the visual world of magic in ways that continue to impress. All of the environments for wizards are impressive, and the special effects are consistently effective in the destruction that unfolds in the middle of New York. However, some of the CGI creatures look like they could still use a bit more work. We get a small taste of magical combat, and it all looks great. It will be exciting to see more of that in the sequels.
While it doesn't come close to demonstrating the magic that we received from the most recent entries of the Harry Potter franchise, this is only the introduction of different characters in this universe. Even though we understand the basic rules of magic, things are different in this setting and time period. Nevertheless, Newt is a likable protagonist that will surely continue to engage audiences throughout this series. Even if you weren't the biggest fan of Harry Potter, this is worth giving a shot, as its explorations are actually quite different. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an enjoyable reintroduction to the world of wizards, although it's light on enchantment. Recommended.