How Eddie Redmayne can take himself seriously playing magical zoologist Newt Scamander is a mystery to me. I lost all composure at the sight of him flipping his waistcoat over his hip and crab-walking to attract a loose rumpant in Central Park in a vague approximation of its mating dance. And if that’s what you’re looking for, then Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them might be the movie for you.
There is something wonderful about seeing magic running wild in more familiar streets, though it feels strangely disconcerting to hear magical terms in an American accent, let alone the absurd term “No-Maj” as a replacement for “Muggle.” The worldbuilding of the film is tastefully done, showing us a bit about the inner workings of the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) and the tempestuous relationships between magic users and No-Majs. And the beasts are indeed fantastic, treating viewers to soaring thunderbirds, prickly bowtruckles, adorable nifflers, and endearing demiguises in some of the film’s best set pieces.
Still, the rest of the film leaves a bit to be desired, and it all feels a bit haphazardly thrown together. Redmayne is adorable and endearing as Scamander, but his awkward, clumsy act gets old quickly as it becomes apparent that almost every incident in the film is entirely his fault. Those that aren’t are the result of Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), a mousy ex-Auror, meddling in Scamander’s affairs. And their storyline is intercut abruptly with a subplot involving Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and orphan Credence (Ezra Miller) that’s nearly incomprehensible until the very end. As such, the film feels a bit like two incomplete storylines glued together.
*SPOILER WARNING FOR THE NEXT PARAGRAPH*
Still, nothing is as infuriating as the ending. Graves, who has been working in the shadows to do… something unclear and ambiguous with secret-Obscurial Credence’s powers, is revealed to be a magically disguised Grindelwald, played by a paper-white Johnny Depp who bears more resemblance to a naked mole rat than a fearsome wizard. How did Grindelwald maintain a magical disguise while working under the nose of MACUSA’s president? The quick turnaround of Graves from stuck-up Auror to rogue interference with Credence to most evil wizard in the world is given almost no support, making it difficult to believe. It would have made more sense, honestly, for Graves to secretly be a Grindelwald supporter—we would have been able to learn more about the underground black magic side of the universe, instead of jumping immediately to the Big Bad.
*END OF SPOILERS*
While the film wasn’t bad by any means, it fell a little flat. I’d always enjoyed the original Harry Potter films for their intricate in-universe rules and the exploratory nature of the characters learning more magic every year. But Fantastic Beasts, which focuses on adult, experienced magic users, has none of that. Many of the spells are even cast non-verbally. And while I’m glad for a chance to get a glimpse into the history of the universe, I think the series may be a bit overdrawn, from the release of Cursed Child to Rowling’s never-ending interviews and tweets. Apparently they’re planning to make this into a five-movie series—will I go see them? Probably. But do I think the series needs to be able to die a peaceful death? Absolutely.