It’s harder to love this movie than any of the *Harry Potter* films. The setting is rather gray and dreary, and the costumes are mundane, even for the time period. Main characters Newt and Tina are both underplayed, and hard to get a feel for. Their sidekicks, Jacob and Queenie, are much more appealing. There IS humor, but aside from a few really good “beast” scenes, nothing here feels very magical.
It’s possible the story will improve with subsequent viewings, but I found myself – a die hard HP fan who publicly dresses in full Hogwarts attire – not really caring much about the story. I couldn’t relate to the actual plot, and found this dense tale a bit confusing. I can’t imagine a casual Rowling fan would follow much of the situation. Things blow up and explode into little CGI bits, over and over again. Who is the smoky creature, who is the creepy little girl, and why is Colin Farrel so grim and stalkery? I’m not satisfied with that ending of the movie at all, or the reveal. Yet I’m just so thankful to have more of the Wizarding World to look at, and the abundance of amusing interactions between Newt and Jacob carry a lot of goodwill.
It also took me a while to clue in that Newt seems to be on the Autism spectrum, which would explain his constant under-emoting. He was hard to connect with when he wasn’t interacting with his creatures. I’m guessing — now that I understand he has trouble with actual people — that the movie will improve on re-watch. [Note from much later: *Fantastic Beasts* does get more fantastic. It’s now a beloved movie within my collection of *Harry Potter* universe films. I’m excited for the next one.]
I’m giving this movie a B+, but largely from grading on a curve within the *Harry Potter* universe. I miss Ron, Hermione, and Hogwarts…and Quidditch, classes, and teachers. I wanted some brooms (apparating is boring to watch), and those cool English wizard pub scenes. I missed the intricate detail of places like Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We did get an excellent Wizarding Speakeasy scene. Being inside the suitcase was rewarding. The Niffler and Bowtruckle (he’s like Baby Groot!) were adorable, and the Thunderbird: simply magnificent.
I saw this movie in 2D, and will see it again in 3D. If that improves things, I’ll adjust the grade. Should you see this film? Yes. But don’t expect lush Scottish scenery or a sense of magical awe in this outing.
UPDATE: I saw this a second time, the very next day. This time I saw it in 3D, in a good seat, in a better room at the cinema. Don’t waste your time in a small theater with this – seeing it properly improved things a great deal. Also, the film is simply better upon a second viewing experience. The actual ‘evil’ plot is still tedious, but the Beast scenes really are very good. Any time we spend in the suitcase is precious. So I did upgrade the film to a B+.
I did want to add that enjoyment of the film DOES require significant investment in the books of Harry Potter, or at Pottermore online. You will need to have read the books to understand why Grindelwald is important. The HP movies alone don’t give much context with what happened in Dumbledore’s era.
And appreciating the Beasts themselves is better if you’ve read the 2001 Hogwarts “textbook” *Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them*, unless you are already conversant with the critters in question. These Beasts aren’t the well-known ones you might have expected — no gryffins, sphinxes, or even dragons. They’re pretty damn obscure. Ever hear of a Demiguise?
If you like JK Rowling’s Wizarding World, make sure you get in early for good seating in a quality theater — much more enjoyable. At this time, this movie is planned to be in one of five with these new characters, just so you’re mentally prepared.