Fantastic or Beastly?: New ‘Fantastic Beasts’ film dazzles, disappoints

Photo Courtesy of IMDb

The much anticipated sequel to the “Harry Potter” universe expansion “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” premiers today, and an early screening offered a special view of the wild world of monsters, muggles and magic.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is the newest in a line of author J.K. Rowling’s creations, which began with a feature film released in November 2016. The release of the second installment in what is predicted to be a lengthy series, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” brought background and much-needed context to the series, but may have introduced too many convoluted concepts for fans of the original series to appreciate it fully.

For fans of the seven-book series and its matching eight-movie franchise, “Harry Potter” is incredibly special — it has sparked imaginations for years. However, with a very active author who is constantly expounding on her massive wizarding world, fans will inevitably be surprised once in awhile. Rowling intermittently shares juicy facts about the series, with some notable commentary regarding the sexuality of famed character Albus Dumbledore, the head of the wizard school in the original series, as well as several suggestions about historical events she has created as part of that world.

Rowling, who helped create the concept for the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise, certainly expanded on these facts in the film, as well as answered some questions viewers had about the original “Fantastic Beasts” film. Complete with plenty of fantastical special effects and adorable beasts, the second film was visually appealing, but what was perhaps most interesting was the continued mystery surrounding the main character, wizard and beast enthusiast Newt Scamander.

Scamander, who is the clear protagonist, but who’s backstory is elusive, pours his time and energy into his motley crew of wizards and muggles, and his beasts. In the second film, his crew grew to include new characters, such as his golden-boy brother, Thessius, and the story expanded on the back stories of some of the returning characters. The woefully misled pawn in the first film, Credence Barebone, re-appeared in search of his true family, as well as Leta LeStrange, a witch from a very famous bloodline who was mentioned but never shown in the first film.

Along with some pleasant twists, the plot seemed to be setting up a larger storyline, but focused on revealing the intentions of the evil mastermind Gellert Grindelwald, a dark wizard with puritanical intentions. Grindelwald and Scamander, and by extension Dumbledore himself, clash in Paris. Sides are chosen, loves are lost and in the midst of it all, Scamander is able to save some beloved beasts. The film also expanded on Scamander’s own relationships with the beautiful American witch he met in the first film, Tina Goldstein, his childhood friend, LeStrange and his own brother, Thessisus.

While the film had raw emotional depth, fantastical elements and plenty of action-packed twists and turns, it still seemed to come up short. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Rowling’s previous work was so intricately and delicately written, the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise simply lacks the written work to back it up, or it may be because fans have a harder time getting behind new characters after following Harry Potter and his friends over the course of 10 years. Whatever the reason, there was something that no amount of special effects, witty lines or gripping emotional scenes could overcome — the spirit of Rowling’s wizarding world didn’t shine as bright as it used to.

The film had plenty of subtle political undertones, and catered wonderfully to the 20-something audience that grew up in Rowling’s world. However, it seemed like the film was missing the nostalgic playfulness that was constant in the Harry Potter series.

All in all, “Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald” was a solid sequel to an epic first movie. Rowling simply seems to forget that when we think of Hogwarts and Harry Potter, we want to be transported back to our 12-year-old selves, reading under the covers and being completely engulfed in a shiny, brilliant, unique world all our own.