That said, building this world does come at the expense of the story. There’s a beginning, middle, and end here, but it feels perfunctory. “FB” is far more interested in developing its world and its characters, almost to the point where it forgets that there needs to be a villain and conflict here. A bit too much time is spent on hijinks without much of a narrative. It’s too bad, because there’s actually a good antagonist here that I wish I would have seen more developed.
The more fleshed out world yields an interesting group of characters that I, for now, believe I’ll find enjoyable over the course of another four films. “FB” spends a lot of time, maybe too much time, convincing the audience to like our new protagonist, Newt Scamander. I’ll admit I spent a lot of the first half of the movie trying to understand where things were going beyond Rowling begging us to please like this strange man. Rowling even throws in a line for Newt where he admits people find him annoying. That’s really not good when you give your main character that line and you’re silently nodding to yourself. Ultimately, I do think Rowling succeeds in swaying the audience to be on Newt’s side. This should be beneficial in future movies as Newt is far more interesting than Harry Potter ever was, but it drags down the early portions of this first installment.
Luckily, we don’t need as much prodding to like Newt’s cohorts. Our main heroine, Tina, isn’t exactly breaking the mold or bringing anything to the table, but she isn’t hurting anything. Rowling makes Tina easy to root for, but doesn’t make her terribly interesting so far. Her sister, Queenie, is a fun addition that will likely invoke at least fleeting shades of Luna for most Potter fans. Then there is the likable muggle (or no-mag, as they’re known in America) Jacob, Newt’s sidekick and the one that really steals the show. Jacob is impossible to not like, and Eddie Redmayne & Dan Fogler are great together, enhancing the likability of both of them. Jacob is a welcome addition to the Wizarding World, and given his lack of powers, it will be curious to see how Rowling utilizes him going forward.
Beyond all of this, surprisingly very little previous Potter knowledge is needed here. Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock will know all they need to know here. I’m sure big Potter fans will pick up far more than I did (probably the most insider thing I figured out was what Hogwarts house Newt was a part of), but as someone who isn’t a Potter diehard, I was not lost in the least.
If you were skeptical that a return trip to the Wizarding World was unnecessary… well, you might still think that, but at least this isn’t a lazy cash grab. “FB” does spend a lot of time on world-building and characterization at the expense of its story, but I think it succeeds in giving us a good group of characters in an interesting world that we will want to return to again and again… and again… and again.