I’m not into the Harry Potter universe. I only read the first couple of books, but I have seen all the movies at least once. So I’m not qualified to, nor interested in, debating about how/if Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them this movie is an appropriate contribution to the Harry Potter canon. My only comment on that front is that J.K. Rowling is credited as the writer. That should be enough for anyone.
The capsule synopsis reads:
The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.
It was explained to me later that the book that is referenced in the title of the movie is mentioned and referred to several times throughout the Harry Potter story as a reference/text book at some of the Hogwarts classes. I think that’s a cool tie-in to the main movies.
One of the things I like most about the movie is that the lead character is not a budding super hero. We know that he was kicked-out of Hogwarts and has since been wandering the world, writing his book. But people aren’t quite sure exactly where he’s been or what he’s been doing. It’s not that he’s some magical James Dean or Jack Kerouac. Turns out that he’s extremely socially awkward. He seems to be a borderline Aspbergers’ Syndrome case. He’s awkward around people, avoids eye-contact, stammers whenever he’s speaking about important things. But when he’s talking about the subject he’s focused on, fantastic beasts, he knows exactly what to say & what to do. I’m glad to see a lead character like this, with both strengths and weaknesses. Kudos to Eddie Redmayne for his portrayal.
The movie is set, I think, in the late 1930’s, maybe early 40’s in New York City. It’s kind of a pastiche of styles and visuals so it’s hard to pin down. You get hints of early colonial America. You get hints of the 20’s era speakeasy culture. You get hints of 40’s era gangsters and the early days of the FBI. This kind of bothered me, the inconsistency of the time period. But it doesn’t ruin the story for me.
Newt has come to New York on a mission known only to himself. But he quickly gets drawn into a zany adventure to round up some escaped Fantasic Beasts, which threaten to expose the magical world to “nonmajs” which is what the Americans call non-magical people. He gets drawn into the magic community which is organized much differently than what we see in the Harry Potter movies. I suppose for the Harry Potter fans, this is interesting, but for people who aren’t that into the canon, I think it got in the way.
There were plenty of moments in the movie, where everyone had to pause to let the special effects department wow us with the portrayal of Magic In Action. Visually interesting, kind of fun to watch. Kids are gonna love it.
Which brings me to the beasts. Many of them felt improbable, even in the world of Harry Potter. Seemed like beasts were invented to fit into the spots in the story line. “Here we need a cute furry beasts that does X. There we need a large scary beast that nonetheless is not particularly aggressive, etc.” But the special effect team did a great job bringing them to life.
I won’t spoil the movie except to say that as Newt chases his beasts, and we see the American version of the magic world unfold, there are other, darker forces that creep into the story to keep things on edge.
I really liked the supporting characters in the movie. In the Harry Potter movies, all too often the supporting characters are there just to have frailties to make Harry look good. But in this movie, every character is their own person, with their own goals in life and goals for today and their own foibles.
I thought the plot was kind of thin, there were too many pauses for special effects spectaculars, and I didn’t particularly care about all the effort spent to establish the universe of the movie. But I liked the lead character a lot. I liked the supporting characters a lot. So I’d give a thumbs up to this movie as a popcorn adventure movie with interesting characters.