After the rampant success of Harry Potter, I’ll admit even I was surprised when WB announced a series based on the Fantastic Beasts companion book, trying to recapture the magic (pun definitely intended!) that made a whole generation fall in love with JK Rowling’s stories. Set in New York in the 1920’s is a completely different setting for the Potter-verse and while remaining skeptical, I was quickly won over by the charming characters, well thought out story and of course fantastic beasts that light up the screen everytime they grace it. The setup is the same although instead of Muggles they are called Nomaj in the American magician term, their is a evil wizard rising to power and some unknown events happening in New York City start occuring when Newt (Eddie Redmayne) steps foot from England into the city.
The film is written by Rowling and directed by Harry Potter veteran David Yates, Fantastic Beasts centers around Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who when entering the city with a briefcase full of fantasy creatures. When the briefcase is accidentally changed with that of a potential bakers, Newt must set out on a journey to retrieve the creatures that escaped from the briefcase. When he is seen by ex-auror Goldstein (Katherine Watson) she attempts to take them to the Ministry Of Magic USA and when her superiors don’t believe her, she takes them home so the non-maj can recover after being bit by one of the creatures. They are then introduced to Goldstein’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) a mind reader who has never met a non-maj becomes infatuated with Kowalski (Dan Fogler).
The first half of the film hints at who the villains could be, there is a family of witch hunting preachers led by the terrifying Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) and is held up by her creepy adopted-son Credence (Ezra Miller). The head of the wizarding secret police Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) is more than meets the eye and then there is Henry Shaw Senior (Jon Voight) a non-maj media mogul who wields power in politics and the media. If that wasn’t enough there is a rogue Obscurus, a black haze that manifests itself when a child is forced to repress their wizardly powers.
The cast work together perfectly, the main four work extremely well together and fell into their characters completely. Redmayne is perfect as the geeky and awkward lead who is not good with people, Fogler is the perfect counterpart as the thoroughly likeable Kowalski with his love of pastry and adventure. He also serves as the catalyst for the characters to explain everything going on around them that we don’t understand in the magic world. Watson and Sudol are perfect as sisters with different personalities, their chemistry with Newt and Kowalski provides some of the best parts of the film. Colin Farrell seems a bit lost in this film, his character flails around a bit and doesn’t really offer up much till the end of the film.
Special effects wise this film showcases just how far things have come since the Harry Potter series, the beasts and magical creatures are beautifully animated, and while there are a few blatantly obvious green screen moments, the majority of the film manages to whip up the wonder and excitement of its Potter predecessors. Speaking of creatures, I did like that the film was split up into two different storylines that intertwine at the end, one that serviced the purpose of this film well, and one that lays the groundwork for however many sequels WB feels they can milk out of this franchise and name. If the standard of the future films are anything like this one, then this is only a positive thing. I could barely wipe the smile off my face during this movie, it has some incredibly entertaining and humorous moments, while providing a story that is well thought out and inviting us back into the wizarding world in style.
Credit needs to be given to JK Rowling who acknowledges that her Harry Potter audience are now adults and the film is really geared towards that audience (and receives a M15 rating notice appropriately) with a elf lounge cocktail bar scene, brutal and violent deaths and adult themes, Rowling openly shows her connection with her readers and provides an appropriate story for them.
Overall Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them blew away my expectations for the movie and offered so much more than a simple cash in. It was funny and heartwarming and proved why it should exist and laid the groundwork for future installments and interest in this incredible world that Rowling has created. Yates does play it a little safe with Potter-style direction but I think he needed to here to secure the future of the series. Even though the series is set in a different time and country, it still has the charm that Harry Potter managed to have without compromising on the story. If you are at all hesitant like I was to see this film don’t be, it is so much better than any of those horrible trailers that were put out and will please even the most skeptical of Potter fans that this film and franchise deserve a place in our lives.
Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them is in cinemas now
Review by Alaisdair Leith