Fantastic Spinoffs and How To Cash Them is J.K. Rowling’s latest addition to her magical world. It’s also Part 1 of a new movie series, the first Harry Potter-less work, AND her first screenplay, so you could say there’s a lot riding on this. Spoiler alert: it’s doing fine financially, and delivers an enjoyable ride, but neither categories quite rise to the original series’ heights.
Granted, I’m one of those people who grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, so you can say “bah!” to this review if you’re a young whippersnapper. It is fun to see the wizarding world outside the point of view of a student and his friends, and Newt and company are an interesting team, but time (and future installments) will have to show if Rowling has the same level of character arcs and story building that the original saga is known for.
First the good- I liked all the new characters, particularly Jacob, the no-maj (muggle, he’s a muggle, darn it!). While not normally the biggest fan of Eddie Redmayne, he brought the right mix of awkwardness and likability to Newt, although he could maybe consider buying a better suitcase. Tina and Queenie completed the cast out well enough, but I would have liked a bit more of Tina’s backstory, and a reason why someone like Queenie is so automatically smitten with someone like Jacob. Is it because he’s a muggle, or clueless, or has really sweet thoughts?
The creatures themselves were mostly fantastic, but some were a little too cartoonish for me. Granted, some of the earlier Harry Potter films probably haven’t aged well with their CGI characters/effects. The platypus-like Niffler is unsurprisingly my favorite creature. He may have ruined countless lives during the movie by stealing valuable and savings, but gosh if he isn’t a cute lil’ bugger! There were plenty of creatures, and I can’t wait to buy the bread versions of them sometime in Harry Potter World.
I’m not sure very many people were particularly surprised by the villain “twist” “reveal.” I mean, when you start the film with a long shot of the back of the villain’s head, and then a main character shows up with the exact same distinct haircut style (but a different color), he probably isn’t the hero. Also, Grindelwald may be the future big bad of this new series, but it’s going to be difficult to separate him from the heavily recognizable actor who plays him.
My only other criticism of the film was that the ending fell a little flat, thanks to some convenient plot devices. Everyone just saw half the city destroyed, but luckily we just realized that one thing (that we didn’t know the use of earlier) only works with this specific magical beast for exactly this type of situation. And all these buildings fell over, but luckily they can be quickly fixed with easy-looking spells (why are there even construction workers in this world?). And…I guess nobody died during all the flying cars and collapsing walls? Sure. Hopefully these forgetful spells work better than Jacob’s, is all I’m saying. Also, when did we have to stop yelling out spells to cast them?
At the bottom of all this, I think I just missed the old characters we knew, and Hogwarts with its colorful professors. Of course, it’s only been one movie so far, and the greatness of some characters only comes to light after several installments (looking at you, Snape), but rumor is this series of tales will jump ahead quite a bit chronologically, and Newt may not even be the main character throughout. Instead of a focused story about a group of specific characters, we might get more of a scattered (but entertaining) history lesson about the world of magic, leading up to the time of Harry Potter. Time will tell if that’s enough for lightning to strike twice.