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Popular Spin-offs and Where to Find Them

I had the opportunity to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them twice this week, but because of my work load I decided to skip the Tuesday screening I had planned and just see it for the first time on Thursday with my friends. Unfortunately now I really wish I had seen it twice so I could feel a little more decided on my opinion before writing this review. As such, you'll be getting my first impressions of a film that was somewhat of a whirlwind to behold.

Being a spin-off and sort of a prequel to one of the biggest and most popular franchises of the 21st century, it's hard not to bring a certain set of expectations to what you think Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them will be. Those expectations are a lot to overcome during the first half of the film that revolves far more around magical creature mayhem than much of a coherent plot. I couldn't help but feel as the film bumbled along "this is really stretching it" because it just didn't strike me as compelling cinematic material. There was some magic and some wonder as some would expect... but weirdly it was reminding me more of the fairies from Sleeping Beauty than anything I'd seen out of Harry Potter. Also briefly on the cons side, I was a little surprised that the CGI in this film wasn't a little more polished. It's hard to suspend disbelief when things don't look flawless....and for a film of this caliber there should be no excuse.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is all about the adventures of Newt Scamander (yes I wish his last name were Salamander too,) and the book he's writing. He's researching all of the magical creatures in the world which leads him to New York. After an encounter in which a friendly nomag (aka non magical person aka muggle,) who witnesses some creatures escape from his Mary Poppins-esque suitcase, he enlists his help to capture them before other nomags get wise to the fact that there is a wizarding community in New York City. Meanwhile, a darker presence lurks beneath the shadows.

While I liked the opening sequence of Beasts, it was hard to tell what the movie's purpose was for a good chunk of screen time. Meandering films are not always my favorite, but once it finally found its way it did become more of the enjoyable ride that I had been anticipating. Unfortunately Eddie Redmayne doesn't really do a lot for this franchise and feels somehow wasted, and really all of the characters kind of seem like a mixed bag when it comes down to it. The scene stealer here is Dan Fogler playing the nomag character Jacob whom the audience relates with. But Katherine Waterston's Tina seemed a little on the bland side, while Alison Sudol's Marilyn Monroe wannabe character Queenie was a lot more fun. But do they have the potential for the depth Rowling's past series characters achieved? Time will tell.

All in all, not *all* of the magic from Harry Potter made its way into this spin-off, but the magic that did is entirely welcome. As always, it's a fun cinematic ride to enter the world Rowling creates and for the most part, I always enjoy it. Beasts takes a lot of risks that I'm not entirely sure all paid off... and as such it just takes awhile to find its footing and the familiarity of what made the past series great. Hopefully the sequels can improve upon this first effort and feel a little more even. RATING: 7/10

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