Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review: Strong Spectacle, Weaker Story
Fantastic Beasts is the newest (and certainly not last, more on that later) installment in the increasingly broad and varied Harry Potter universe. Unlike the previous films, which focus on the titular young wizard, Beasts instead takes place nearly a century earlier, in the roaring '20s New York City.
Three things to note about this era: the wizard Grindelwald is on the loose, American wizards, unlike their British cousins, have an apartheid-like attitude towards muggles, and lastly (despite their separation and secrecy) some muggles have gotten wise to this and have begun a campaign of witch-hunting on par with Salem.
As a result, the breeding, sale, and transport of magical creatures is banned. Enter Newt, a magical naturalist and conservationist ahead of his time. His love of magical creatures puts him at odds with the draconian American wizards, the witch-hunters, who feel like a suspicious jab at American fundamentalists, and a third group I will omit because spoilers. If you have any wits at all, you'll probably see it coming, though.
Fantastic Beasts has memorable characters, though Kowalski steals the show. The blue collar, New York muggle is easily more interesting than meek and understated Newt. The animals are equally interesting and fun, hearkening back to the days when Spielberg made mogwais on every child's Christmas list. However, the pacing of the film and the story itself is a bit weak. Things go, off and on, from calm to off-the-rails at a manic pace. At the big build-up at the end, which promises at least one sequel, I felt like I had watched four characters meander through half a film only to reach the end without much fuss. I will say one thing: the casting for a certain spoiler did surprise me very much.
Ultimately, Fantastic Beast has both style and substance, even if it's a bit heavier on the style portion. It's not just for kids, either. Take a date, take your friends, take your dog...and nobody will walk out of this movie disappointed.