Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
One thing is clear, the wizarding world has far more charm across the pond than it does here stateside. Case-in-point; in the UK they call people without magic “muggles;” a fun and charming word. Here in the states people without magical abilities are called “no maj;” as in no magic, get it? Yeah, subtle and inventive; way to go Yanks. The same could be said of the latest entry into the cinematic world of Harry Potter, while Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them certainly has its own charms at times, it simply falls short of the originals and fails to completely recapture the magic of the Harry Potter world. Still, for Potter fans, it should be enough to get their fix after missing this world for the past five years.
When Fantastic Beasts focuses on the creatures hinted at in the title is when this movie is the most successful. Those are the moments that feel the most like something from the Harry Potter world; charmingly and whimsically familiar, and yet different enough to feel fresh and exciting. These are the moments where we really get that sense of exploring the world-at-large in the Potter universe. It’s fun to get outside of Hogwarts, and even the UK, to see the rest of the wizarding community and how things run in other parts of it. However, that alone isn’t quite enough material to make a movie, and so Fantastic Beasts mixes in elements from everything from Men in Black to The Omen to X-Men. In fact, it often feels like there are two different movies taking place here. One is a whimsical, funny, charming journey into the wizarding world of 1926 New York City where happenstance causes a visiting wizard’s case of magical creatures to get lost and accidently unleashed on the city. This story is a lot of fun, and often very funny, as our everyman muggle, er no-maj, sorry, encounters one amazing sight after another. The other story, about a dark wizard trying to stir up the magical community to go to war with the non-magical world while elsewhere an agent for MACUSA (basically the magical community’s version of the FBI) looks for something that’s powerful, dark, and dangerous, is not quite as enjoyable. This story is dark, at times quite severely, and often rather creepy and uncomfortable. The big problem with Fantastic Beasts overall is that it switches between these two stories rather quickly, and that tonal shift can be rather jarring. When the stories finally converge, I couldn’t help but wish the movie would have just focused somehow on the pursuit of the fantastic beasts instead of delving into all of this other material, much of it seemingly only needed as set-up for future films (yes, apparently there will be several more of these…somehow).
One of the more amusing sequences in the film is when our endearing muggle, uh, no-maj, finds himself as the object of affection for a large, rhinoceros looking creature (trust me, it’s far more amusing than creepy, despite how it sounds). It’s during this encounter when Newt tries to tell his new friend not to worry. Jake finds this hard to do, considering the extraordinary circumstances he finds himself in, but as Newt points out, worrying only means you have to suffer twice. I really liked that little gem of an insight. Truth be told, I am a worrier, and the fact is, I do suffer more than I should because of it. The irony is, as Newt so sagely points out in his simple statement, all worry does is cause more suffering than we need. Most of the time, what we worry about never comes about, and hence we suffer needlessly. Other times, even if what we worry about does happen, did the worrying really doing anything to help? (I love how in Bridge of Spies one character keeps getting asked why he isn’t worried, and his constant and wise retort is; “Would it help?”) The other thing to keep in mind is since there is a loving God who cares very much about us, there really isn’t anything we should ever be worried about. The Bible expresses it this way; “Do not be anxious [worried] about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6, brackets are mine) Jesus put it this way; “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to the span of his life?” (Matthew 6:25;27) The point is simply this; God loves you, he will take care of you. That doesn’t mean he’ll magically fix everything with a repairio spell, but he will always be there to help, to provide, to comfort, and to supply in every need and situation. He may not always calm the storm, sometimes he will calm us to get through the storm. Either way, there’s no point in worrying; a lesson I need to learn.
Now, plenty of Harry Potter fans will be worried about whether or not this new addition to the world of Harry Potter will live up to the legacy of the main Harry Potter series. For the most part, I would say yes, it does. There are some rough patches. I mentioned the wild tonal differences. Then there’s the issue of all the characters not quite clicking. Newt and Jake are a fun pair, and even the addition of Queenie later in the movie is fun, but unfortunately, I felt the main female character, Mary Lou, felt underserved and a bit flat, thus her chemistry with the rest of the main cast just didn’t seem to be there. Nevertheless, there are some truly magical moments that recapture some of the awe and wonder of the Harry Potter world. There are some funny moments, some nice heartfelt moments, some decent action, and even an interesting little surprise twist, which timeline-wise I’m not entirely sure made sense, but was still fun. All in all, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a fine addition to the world of Harry Potter; it might not rank with the best of the films, but it certainly isn’t among the worst. As to whether it’s worthy of a series of its own, well, on that I remain rather skeptical.
Score: 4 of 7 – I know Potter fans are going to rage at that average score, but I really felt this was just that; an average movie. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. It had its rough patches, and some elements and characters just didn’t really click. Also, it’s worth mentioning again that this movie gets really dark, in some pretty severe ways that I found rather surprising. You may not want to bring the younger ones.