After much initial resistance to the idea, I reluctantly went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I don’t think my hesitance was an isolated phenomenon, as I imagine many former Potter fans finding themselves at a crisis of faith of the series’ most recent manifestation as a purely money-driven venture. While this accusation is serious, there is little other explanation for a proposed series of five films ostensibly inspired by a 128-page book written 15 years ago by J.K. Rowling for the foundation Comic Relief.
The film struggles to live up to its inevitable hype. Who is Newt Scamander and why should I care about him? For a series that hung its hat on some of the most memorable fictional characters in recent literature, this is a worrying query. Eddie Redmayne brings his usual charm to the role but there is little for him to work with. We cared about Harry because he was identifiable and relatable to all of us. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Scamander as he is already established in the wizarding world, nowhere near as prominent as our former boy-hero. As a result, there is no bildungsroman-fueled nostalgia. Rather, the viewer is left struggling to understand why we should care about a wizard with a penchant for wildlife conservation. When you operate in the same world as Harry Potter and Voldemort and the absolute good v. ultimate evil implications that come with it, failing to provide a comparably compelling main protagonist is not a good start.
Tina Goldstein, portrayed by Katherine Waterston, the film’s primary female character, is flat and uninteresting. Once again, in a series that provided us with Hermione Granger, my favorite literary character of all time and one of the icons of the 21st century manifestation of the feminine hero, having such a bland head female character might be serious enough to be a death knell for my interest in this new series. The film’s climax, in which Goldstein and Scamander appear ready to kiss for no reason other than the fact that they are indeed of the opposite gender, inspired reaction that my colleague Janel England ’17 summarized eloquently as, “I’m going to burn this fucking theater down if they kiss.”
Alison Sudol, portraying Tina’s sister Queenie, provides the film’s most compelling character, a free-spirited swinger-era badass. Despite the fact that Rowling tries to pigeonhole her into the trope of “ugly guy, hot wife” opposite of Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski, Sudol provides some much needed depth to a cast that inspires utter apathy.
James Newton Howard, who composes the film’s score, manages to add another masterful addition to the Harry Potter universe soundtracks, and in doing so provides undoubtedly the film’s pinnacle achievement.
Ultimately, while it is by no means a poor film in its own rights, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a thinly-veined attempt by Rowling and Company to take advantage of the film industry’s current infatuation with sequels. Rowling, Yates, Heyman and Kloves throw a multitude of strings out there over the course of the film’s two-plus hours but struggle to weave them together into a coherent or meaningful whole by its conclusion.