TL;DR – Is Fantastic Beasts a perfect film, no, but it is a really entertaining one, and it is a good continuation of the Harry Potter universe
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
I came late to the whole Harry Potter universe, I didn’t read the books growing up, and in fact, I was quite old when I eventually read them all. If memory serves me correctly, I read through them all back to back, and watched all the films, in-between Deathly Hallows Part 2 being in the cinemas and when it was out on DVD. So I have always come to the Harry Potter Universe in a different manner, so for me, the books dramatically improve after that twist at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire because I liked the more mature tone. But I know that for many people the opposite is true, so I was interested to see how I was going to respond to this newest entry into the Harry Potter Universe – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – The first film in this universe I got to see at the cinemas.
For Fantastic Beasts, we go way back in time to 1926 which falls in-between the Two World Wars, WW1, the war Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) fought in, and WW2 this conflict that is looming in both the wizard and human world. Because of this and the continued rise of Grindelwald, who is both Dumbledore’s former besty, and soon to be the wizarding world’s first Hitler. All of this combined with the USA’s Wizarding worlds very strict segregation laws between magic’s and no-maj’s, which is in no way symbolic of any real life event, means that there is a lot of tension across New York when Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives at the end of his long trip around the world cataloguing magical beasts and immediately gets into trouble.
I’ll get into more of the story in a bit once we engage spoilers, but the one thing we need to talk about is the visuals. When you name your film ‘Fantastic Beasts’ it is really important that the magical creatures are on point, and well, Fantastic Beasts delivers in spades. All the bests are beautifully realised from the Niffler, which will be the must have toy this Christmas, to the Erumpent and everything in between. The real standout is what is in Scamander’s briefcase which I won’t spoil here, but it is the most imaginative part of the whole movie. In fact, all of the visual effects in this film are spectacular, there is a history of this in the franchise and it is good to see it back in all its glory. There is one small thing, at the start of the film some of the establishing shots of New York Street’s felt a little false and needed a little more refinement. However, Yates shows a wonderful hand in framing shots to give the action a real dynamic feel, and the movie makes you keep guessing what magical creature is going to pop up next.
As well as the visual effects the casting is also one of the strengths of the film. Eddie Redmayne for me can be endearing (see The Theory of Everything) or weirdly off-putting (see Jupiter Ascending) with his delivery. Here, however, he is perfectly cast as Scamander, that boundless energy just fits the role so well, as well as that, he plays an anxious yet an endearing character to a tee. Katherine Waterston takes a little bit to get into the role of Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein and I do wish they had explored her character a little more, but there is a turning point about halfway through and wow you see a real depth of emotion. Alison Sudol gives a really interesting performance as Queenie Goldstein which could have just been the film’s manic pixie dream girl, but Alison gives her complexity and passion. Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski is our point of view character for Fantastic Beasts. As a no-maj (which immediately replaces muggle on the condescending list) this whole magical world is new for him, and we experience his joy and confusion, also Dan shows he can hold his own in the physical comedy stakes and when you are going up against Eddie that’s a fantastic job.
The one area where I don’t think the movie worked as well as it could be was in parts its story which has some problems for me. However, to explain the problems with the story I need to [ENGAGE SPOILERS] for the rest of the paragraph. Fantastic Beasts is actually two separate stories that interact with each other throughout the movie. The first story is that of Scamander, Tina, Jacob and Queenie who are going about capturing all the things that escaped Scamander’s case when it got swapped with Jacobs in the bank because the most adorable Niffler in the world escaped and caused a scene. The second story is that of Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) who has been sent by President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) to hunt down what is causing chaos across New York and threating to breach the veil of secrecy, and giving fire to new groups like New Salem Philanthropic Society run by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). While these are interesting stories and they do intersect in very interesting ways it just feels that the second story is just not quite as strong as the first. The second story has some issues with some clear clichés and tonally it is much darker than the first story. Now having widely different shifts in tone can be done in movies, I just don’t think they quite pulled it off here. Now when these two stories crash together towards the end, it elevates some of these issues, but they do hold back the first part of the film a little. Also, I would have liked a bit more would building about the Wizarding world in North America, and those old ladies were far too chill with the instant death penalty, like wow way too chill.
In the end, I really liked Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it is beautifully animated, has a great cast, and is a wonderful re-entry into this universe. It is not a perfect film but it sets the scene for a fantastic future about the past, in the future, that is some time turner stuff right there. So I can highly recommend Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and this is one that you might want to make sure you see at the cinemas.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – David Yates
Written by – J. K. Rowling
Based on – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling
Music by – James Newton Howard
Starring – Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Ron Perlman, Jon Voight & that cameo that you have probably already heard about but I’m not going to spoil it here.
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13