Anyone who read the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them book should have gone into this movie with a healthy amount of skepticism. There is literally zero plot to this book. It's basically just a beastiary. Very interesting if you, like me, love to read about interesting creatures. There's little to no history of Newt Scamander outside of the fact that he wrote this book. But how could this possibly be turned into a movie?
Well the answer is, it can't. At least not well. Given the fact that there's no plot to follow, they have to take quite a bit of liberties to create something watchable. This isn't always a bad thing, but it isn't often a good thing either.
Probably my biggest issue with this movie was the setting. The wizarding world of Harry Potter is so magical and so wonderful. Even though the original series is set relatively close to modern day, it feels older. No electricity, no cars, etc. Everything relies on magic. It's a fantastic element to the books/movies that I think people often overlook. Fantastic Beasts is set in 1920's New York and it shows. So much so that I felt like it robbed the magic from the entire premise. There were no fantastic settings akin to Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade. We see the Senate or Congress or whatever it was, but everything was so utilitarian. It's so industrial and borderline steampunk-y. It was every 1920's setting in every movie ever. That set the mood for me right off the bat and not in a very good way.
This is the first thing I've ever seen Eddie Redmayne in personally, and I'm not a fan. I did not like his portrayal of New Scamander at all. He's nervous and fidgety, never makes eye contact. He's the kind of person you wouldn't feel comfortable being around in real life and that's not what I want to see on screen. Like I said, there's no history or anything on Newt so it's open to interpreation, but I thought it was a very bad interpretation.
Now being called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them you'd think the movie would be heavily focused on the beasts. Well, forget that. The beasts are such a subplot of this movie it's almost an after thought, even though they were one of the better parts. I wasn't sure if the obscurus was supposed to be a beast or not. It was never explained and it was definitely portrayed as just something that everyone knows about in the wizarding world. The niffler and the demiguise were both adorable and fun to watch, but a lot of the other beasts felt more like aliens than magical beasts. I was very much looking forward to seeing some magical creatures and there were only a few and even fewer of them were an intricate part of the plot.
There has been a lot of discussion/debate on them internets about wandless and unspoken magic in the movies versus the books, but this movie takes it to a whole new level. Colin Farrell is essentially a Sith Lord in this movie and it makes zero sense.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of actors in the world. A seemingly endless amount of possibilities for casting. And yet, Johnny Depp finds his way into every goddam movie on earth somehow. STOP. USING. JOHNNY. DEPP. FOR. EVERYTHING!!! When he was revealed to be Grindewald at the end, I was pissed, and not just because he looked like a bleach blonde, chubby KD Lang. The whole inclusion of Grindewald in general was stupid, but to cast Johnny Depp was even worse.
Now, there are a few redeeming qualities to Fantastic Beasts. Dan Fogler as Kowalski was simply delightful. He provided some much needed comedy and the way he always seemed to look at everything in amazement was a perfect portrayal of how we would all probably feel if we learned magic was real. His relationship with the blonde witch whose name I can't remember was just adorable. These two were the saving grace of this movie.
...that's probably the only redeeming qualities of this movie, actually.
The whole thing was just kind of ok. It had a chance to be really fantastic and fun, but decided to get really dark and political. They barely even touch on how the American wizarding world works and name drop aplenty. How they can possibly string four more movies out of this is so far beyond me I can barely wrap my head around it, but as long as they bring Kowalski back, there's at least some promise.