I, like most of the known world, have been a fan of Harry Potter since I started reading it as a child. My relationships with the movie adaptations, on the other hand, have more or less been hit or miss. While I enjoy them overall, I never like how much they cut out of the books. I understand the need to fit the film into a manageable viewing time, but I always felt that certain scenes that were cut from the book were sometimes necessary to understand not only the characters but the story overall. I’ll never forgive the fact that they completely cut out the final conversation between Harry and Dumbledore at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and condensed it down to a few scant lines that barely cover anything.
Still, one can’t deny the cultural impact that Harry Potter has had on a generation and with the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was content with the journey and I moved on with my life. I guess I moved on too well because Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released and I still haven’t read it. And to be honest, I wasn’t that excited to hear about five new movies. Perhaps in my mind, Harry Potter is over and done with so it’s hard to accept anything new.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows the adventures of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a wizard who studies and takes care of magical creatures, as he travels to New York. When he bumps into Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a down on his luck no-maj (muggle for the British), magical beasts from Newt’s briefcase are released and they, along with former Auror Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), must go through the city collecting them before the Wizarding World is exposed.
Right from the get-go, this film feels like the last four films of the Harry Potter films, due, no doubt, to David Yates’ direction. So, right from the get-go, this film feels a lot darker than the early years of Harry Potter, which makes sense because while the film still has the magic and whimsy that befits the Wizarding World, this is still the world of adults who have to deal with adult issues.
This is the source of the problem that I feel the film has. There are two distinct storylines that are running through the film. One deals with Newt and Jacob’s efforts to recapture the creatures that escaped. This is the story that is filled with wonder and joy. The other deals with Tina and Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) attempting to find a creature that wreaking havoc through New York. This is the story that is filled with some of the darkest material I’ve ever seen in the Harry Potter universe.
How can you reconcile a fun and upbeat story about capturing unique and fantastical creatures with a story of witch-hunts and child abuse? Plus, this new series has to introduce a completely new side of the Wizarding World (the culture of the Wizarding World in America), so the beginning of the movie meanders around, making Newt’s storyline feel unimportant in the face of the true story, of an invisible beast of rage killing and destroying New York. And in the middle of it all, there’s Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), an adopted son of a witch-hunter who is frequently beaten with a belt.
Speaking of which, there are several actors who simply excel as their characters. Dan Fogler is simply delightful as Jacob, allowing us to see a no-maj viewing magic for the first time with the same love that us fans had when we first saw it. Ezra Miller draws so much sympathy for his struggle. Even Colin Farrell is interesting if only to see a view of magic that isn’t really expressed, the view that the law hurts more people than it helps.
Even with these wonderful characters, though, it can’t help the fact that the film just feels like events transpire only to set up events in the sequels because films today aren’t interested in being good films, they’re interested in setting up franchises. How one character’s arc ends was extremely bold and surprised me (I always love it when films surprise me), but it also left me wondering what the point of it was? It didn’t make sense in this film but I have the feeling that it will make sense in the next films.
Having said all of that, I want to see what happens in the next films. Maybe it’s the magic of Harry Potter but even with all the problems I see in the film, I still want to see where this series takes me. I probably enjoyed it much more than the original movies, which is probably because this isn’t based on a book and there was nothing cut out of it that I felt shouldn’t have been cut. In the end, it is a fun film to watch, and despite all the problems I found with it, I still enjoyed my time visiting the Wizarding World again. And I believe this will probably be the film that makes me finally read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.