***SPOILER ALERTS!*** To all the Harry Potter fanatics out there who are expecting an amazing, mystery-solving, majorly “connected” prequel: Beware, and lower those expectations. Fantastic Beasts is an enjoyable movie — mostly because Eddie Redmayne is so gosh darn lovable as a twitchy, nerdy Englishman — but it’s definitely not your average HP film.
Set in New York a good 70 years before Mr. Potter finds out he’s a wizard and enters Hogwarts, Fantastic Beasts follows Newt Scamander (Redmayne) around the city, where he’s trying to protect a magical suitcase filled with magical and somewhat illegal creatures. A few of these creatures escape from the suitcase right around the same time another magical, more “evil” (debatable) creature starts wreaking havoc around the city. This unfortunate series of events leads to the New York wizarding community believing Newt and friends to be enemies of the state.
Newt’s friends include Tina Goldstein, a somewhat tortured local auror, and Jake Kowalski, a “No-Maj” as they say in this movie (I prefer “muggle” myself, but British slang is always more fun than American). Together the three must locate all escaped creatures and figure out how to stop the other one from destroying anything or anyone else. Honestly, Redmayne’s charm and the Kowalski character’s amusing obliviousness are what make this film so enjoyable, not necessarily the actual plot, which is a bit shallow. As a viewer you don’t feel super connected to the story (maybe the creatures, but not the story), and only toward the end do we see the slightest of references to the Harry Potter world we know and love.
In conclusion, as a film in the Harry Potter oeuvre, it falls short; as a standalone film, it falls short; but the truth is, no matter what J.K. Rowling or anyone else does, it’s very difficult to truly capture the original magic (pun intended) of the original books and films in any new books and films, but I think we all love that they keep trying.