Note: There are no spoilers in this article beyond what has already been shown or referenced in trailers, ads, and merchandise.
1. Will I like it?
Yes, but more for the spectacle than for the plot. The beasts are fantastic in two ways: they are creatures that could only exist in a magical fantasy world, and they are absolutely captivating on screen.
The plot is not much more complex than what, if you’ve seen the trailers for the film, you already know about it: Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) brings fantastic beasts from England to New York City, some of them get loose, and much of the rest of the film is about finding them. The other major plot thread involves a reactionary anti-magic group and a deadly kind of magic that has never been mentioned in any of the previous Harry Potter books, movies, etc. The plot exists for two purposes: to provide the opportunity to showcase excellent special effects, and (to a much greater degree) to set the stage for the already-announced four planned sequels. (It occurs to me to wonder what the sequels will be called. I mean, adding a number to the end of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” seems inelegant.)
2. Will my kids like it?
Almost certainly. The movie is rated PG-13 in the U.S., and rightly so, as there are several on-screen deaths (though no gore), genuinely startling moments, and more than a few scary scenes in which the main characters are in peril. There are also a great many humorous moments and awe-inspiring magical creatures. Since all the witches and wizards in the movie are already experienced adults, the audience is provided a surrogate by Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a “no-maj” (the American term equivalent to “muggle”) who gets unwittingly swept up in the story. Fogler does a great job making his character come to life; I hope this performance leads to more work for him, as he clearly deserves it.
You should be forewarned that several of the titular fantastic beasts are adorable – particularly the Niffler and the twig-like Bowtruckle – and your children (or you) may want a toy version of them. There are also several creatures that just look awesome, if not cute – I’m thinking primarily of the one called “Swooping Evil.”
3. How does it compare to the eight Harry Potter movies?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has a much faster pace than any of the HP books, with the possible exception of Deathly Hallows: Part 2. The faster pace serves the purpose of making the relatively weak plot less noticeable, whether by design or not, though not to the point where it would cross the line into action-film territory.
4. How much knowledge about the Harry Potter universe does the movie require?
In the highly unlikely scenario that you’re considering seeing this movie without having seen at least several of the Harry Potter series, you should definitely watch them first, because Fantastic Beasts definitely assumes that the viewer knows how the universe’s magic works, as it only pauses for exposition regarding new elements of the universe.
The movie takes place in 1926, and in fact right around the time (probably not coincidentally, but it’s not clear yet) when Lord Voldemort is supposed to have been born (named Tom Riddle, of course). The movie is very obviously, as I mentioned above, the first in a series, and, while there are bits that tie in with the HP series, it’s more about introducing the characters and the world.
5. When’s a good time for a bathroom break?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a bit over two hours long, so one or two breaks may be needed. The first time I’d recommend is a bit under an hour into the film, when Kowalski agrees to help Newt tend to his animals – you’ll miss a chase scene, but nothing vital to the plot. If another break is required, I suggest a fair bit more into the film when Newt is trying to re-capture an Erumpent (which resembles a large rhino with a glowing horn) in Central Park. The scene that transpires is very funny and shouldn’t be missed if possible, but it’s not essential to understanding what happens afterwards.
6. Do I have to stay through the end credits for a bonus scene at the end?
No. Once the credits start rolling, there’s no more content. The music is good, though, so you might want to stay for that.
7. Is it worth paying extra for 3-D and/or IMAX?
I have thus far only seen the movie once, and it was in IMAX 3-D, so I can’t compare that experience to seeing it otherwise. But I will say that, since the movie is more captivating for the eyes than for the brain, seeing it on a large screen makes it fairly easy to notice a lot of details that you might otherwise overlook. The 3-D effects are used extensively and well, with various things coming out of the screen at you in very creative ways. I would caution, however, that the 3-D process does make some of the foreground objects look more out-of-focus than I’m sure they’re supposed to be, and it makes some already-dark scenes even darker, and thus possibly a bit confusing to some.
I will say that I really enjoyed seeing it in IMAX 3-D, but that the next time I see it I will likely go for regular old 2-D to see what details I might not have caught the first time.
8. Does the movie pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Yes, although if my memory serves me, just barely, when the (female) president of MACUSA (which has nothing to do with Apple as it is the Magical Congress of the USA) talks with Tina (the female lead, played by Katherine Waterston). I would argue, however, that the fact that, despite the movie’s setting in the 1920s, the movie lacks any noticeable (by me, anyway) sexism should earn it some points.
9. What about Johnny Depp’s cameo (which has been mentioned so much online by now that I think it hardly counts as a spoiler any more)?
He appears just before the end of the movie, and I’d argue that it’s more than a cameo, as he will surely appear in some, if not all, of the remaining movies in the series. The role seems a good fit for him, as he seems to be the go-to guy for semi-crazy, self-absorbed, weird-looking male characters.
10. Boil it down for me. Should I go see it?
Yes, absolutely. It is not a great film, but it is a good one, and it is absolutely beautiful to behold. You may not want to see it more than once – although I do, because I know there were details I missed the first time – but you will not regret seeing it once.
Images: Warner Bros. Ent.