Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a multi-billion-pound enterprise the Harry Potter franchise returns to the big screen, sans Harry Potter. Following a five-year hiatus of magical misadventures Warner Brothers, like so many of us beforehand, have checked their bank account and had that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. Woah, is that how much I’ve spent this month? Looks like we need to reboot a franchise. I’m being facetious of course. Following a decade of phenomenally successful Harry Potter films it is natural for WB to want to make more films and the desire is definitely there on the behalf of the audience. Could I honestly say that I don’t want to be wowed and fall in love with new aspects of the magical universe to which I am a fan? No, I want to love this new series as much as the previous, but is it as good?
Newt Scamander (Played by Eddie Redmayne, doing an impression of Doctor Who) is a magical zoologist who has smuggled his case of magical creatures into New York on a conservation mission. During a mix-up with some muggles, or No-Maj as the yanks call them, the case winds up in the hands of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). The fantastic beasts then escape and it’s up to Newt, Jacob and disgraced former auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), to track them down and restore order to the city. This plot would probably be the singular drive of the film if it wasn’t in the interest of starting up a new film franchise. So on top of the magical creatures malarkey there is a separate plot thread in which a group of extremist No-Maj’s led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), and her put upon adopted son Credence (Ezra Miller), attempt to convince the wider world, including for some reason Jon Voight, of the existence and danger of witches and wizards. Additionally, Credence is in cahoots with auror Percival Graves (Colin Farell), a mysterious man whose motives are unclear.
These two contrasting plot threads struggle to intertwine at any point. They flirt with one another, smiling suggestively across a crowded bar, but come the end of the night the part of the film revolving around recapturing the creatures decides to call it in early and head home. The result is a messy narrative that puts a huge strain on the movie’s structure. Fortunately the cast bring an enthusiasm and energy that saves the film from enveloping into a CG fest of immeasurable nothingness. I was once again being a bit facetious when describing Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Newt a bit Doctor Who-esque (Though as a quirky Englishman with an item that is bigger on the inside than the out, armed with a sonic screw… I mean wand and a couple of colourful companions it’s hard to avoid pointing out the similarities). However, he captures the introverted nature of Newt with great authenticity and his developing bond with Jacob is given a greater legitimacy because of this. Speaking of which Dan Fogler steals every scene he is in as the incredibly loveable Jacob, a No-Maj whose journey of discovery within the magical world is Fantastic Beast’s greatest strength. Even the romantic subplot involving Tina’s sister Queenie (Allison Sudol) plays, despite not being given any time to develop convincingly, thanks to their wonderful chemistry. Katherine Waterston is hopelessly underutilised, but is great in the scenes in which she is given things to, you know, do. Hopefully these characters will be given more room to expand in the future.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them promised more than it could deliver but thanks to some wonderful SFX work, a hard-working cast and the endlessly enticing world that J.K Rowling created all those years ago it is difficult to dislike. Perhaps it is time for David Yates to step aside from the series, having directed every Harry Potter film since Order of the Phoenix, and allow a new director the chance to put their spin on the franchise. Though I doubt that’s going to happen and I can only hope David Yates can make me retract that previous sentence with the next film in the series, whenever we should see it.
Dir: David Yates
Scr: J.K Rowling
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Kate Waterston, Dan Fogler, Allison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman
Prd: Steve Kloves, J.K Rowling, David Heyman, Lionel Wigram
DOP: Phillipe Rousselot
Music: James Newton Howard
Country: United Kingdom
Running Time: 133 mins
Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them is out now in UK cinemas.