Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them Review

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Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a strange beast (sorry – bad pun). The story is set within the Wizarding World and features the author of one of Harry Potter’s text books Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). There are references to Dumbledore, Grindelwald (who shows up at the end, played by Johnny Depp) and the Deathly Hallows….yet like Ghostbusters (2016) and the new Doctor Who spinoff Class it feels like its own film in its own right rather than an expansion or re-imagination of an existing universe.

Sure, the film opens with the traditional Warner Bros logo in the clouds whilst Hedwig’s Theme plays – but it’s only a tiny bit of Hedwig’s Theme before we hear the main Fantastic Beasts tune.

The plot itself is a deviation from the usual Harry Potter story. Instead of an all-powerful wizard hell-bent on taking over the Wizarding World, the narrative focuses on Newt trying to track down a bunch of magical beasts in New York, who escape from his bigger-on-the-inside suitcase when he accidentally swaps cases with ‘no-maj‘ (the American word for muggle) baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Magical beasts are banned in 1920s New York, so not only does Newt have to return them to his case before the people of New York hurt the creatures but he must do so whilst trying to evade the U.S. magical government MACUSA (The Magical Congress of the United States of America) – a feat made harder when Newt’s future wife Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who works at MACUSA as a Federal Wand Permit Officer, finds out about the creatures inside his case.

What surprised me the most about Fantastic Beasts was the movie’s tone. With David Yates directing the film, I expected it to be more in-line with the later Harry Potter movies: a dark, eery world with secrets and lies to be discovered within the cracks of wizarding society. Instead Fantastic Beasts is more comparable to the first two Harry Potter films: it’s a much lighter, breezier tone with comedy reminiscent of the Home Alone movies. It makes a nice change for a 2010s Warner Bros film, given how many are cringeworthy attempts at trying to be ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’. It’s one of the reasons why I refuse to watch Man of Steel or Batman v Superman: I much prefer the lighter, comedic tone of Fantastic Beasts than ‘LOOK HOW DARK THE WORLD IS’. Zack Snyder, take note: I like to have fun at the movies – and to me ‘fun’ means Eddie Redmayne performing a ridiculous mating dance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faXUbSSHeyY

Just like the Chris Columbus films, there’s the same sense of wide-eyed wonder with the beasts in the movie too. The Niffler and the Bowtruckle are my personal favourites, although I also love the Swooping Evil (a brilliant creature that looks somewhat like a cross between a bird and a stingray).

The Demiguise (a magical monkey that’s capable of turning invisible) only appears in its visible form towards the end of the movie but is one of the most memorable parts of the film. The scene where you see an invisible creature carrying a handbag across a department store is one of the film’s funniest moments and almost certainly not something that would have been included in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Contrary to what many opinions have expressed, the CGI is just as convincing as it was in the Harry Potter movies; personally, I think the team at Double Negative have done a spellbinding job at showcasing JK Rowling’s massive imagination on the big screen.

As I stated at the beginning of the review however, Fantastic Beasts is more its own entity than a Harry Potter film. Rather than returning to the wizarding school we all know and love from the books, this movie has its own Hogwarts moment: the moment where we first step inside Newt Scamander’s suitcase. Like anything in the Wizarding World the inside of the case is not like an ordinary case interior; in Newt’s case, there’s entire environments full of the titular fantastic beasts. It’s absolutely breath-taking seeing this massive world hidden inside a normal suitcase and conveys JK Rowling’s wonderfully quirky approach to magic we all know and love. It’s magical items like this that made us all fall in love with JK Rowling’s Wizarding World and is perhaps the main reason why the stories set in this universe are such a big success.

A major issue with this film, though, is the way it attempts to emphasise the Harry Potter connection. The beginning of the movie features a quick montage of Daily Prophet newspapers referencing Hogwarts and Grindelwald’s rise to power. Whilst it does a good job of setting the scene of the movie it feels a bit disjointed in my opinion, especially when the main plot of this film is Newt tracking down his magical beasts. Yes, it is pretty obvious that the sequel will focus more on Dumbledore VS Grindelwald – but then show the newspaper montage in the next movie, not in the movie that uses Grindelwald primarily as set-up for the second film. Even the scene in the trailer, where Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves (who isn’t quite who he appears to be) wonders why Albus Dumbledore is so fond of Newt, feels like a forced reference to the main series. This film doesn’t need to over-emphasise the Harry Potter connection: it’s a great film in its own right and like the BBC’s Class television series would benefit more from forgetting the world it is a part of and focus on providing us a great new franchise of movies.

It’s not just the references to the main Harry Potter series that make Fantastic Beasts feel disjointed in places either. The Obscurus (the form that magic takes on when witches and wizards suppress their magical abilities) feels like a complication too far; with Fantastic Beasts, all that was really needed was Newt tracking down his escaped beasts. There didn’t need to be a ‘big bad’, a monstrous form for Newt to defeat. The Obscurus is definitely an interesting idea, unique in the way it ties into the witch hunting of medieval times – but it is perhaps an idea JK Rowling could have saved for a future Wizarding World franchise rather than Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.

The film has a very strong cast. My favourite is probably Dan Folger as Jacob, who provides one of the best muggle characters in the Wizarding World. Dan Folger really made me care for Jacob, to the point that I really hoped his character wouldn’t be made to forget about the magical community he had witnessed (wizards and witches in the Wizarding World often have a tendency to use the obliviate spell on muggles that see magic occur). I won’t give away the ending but it’s not the end for Jacob I had hoped for (or perhaps it was – there’s a hint at the last moment that things may not have gone according to plan). Katherine Waterston is great as Tina too, although I found her sister Queenie (played by Alison Sudol) a more endearing character. It’s a shame Colin Farrell likely won’t return as Percival Graves given a certain revelation; I thought he did a brilliant job at playing such a shady character. Unlike others I enjoyed Johnny Depp’s cameo also; once again he looks completely different to his other movie appearances. Eddie Redmayne unfortunately is a bit of a disappointment. There’s no doubting his acting ability but more often than not he does what I like to call a ‘Robert Pattinson‘: mumbling lines in a fashion where if you weren’t watching in the cinema you’d struggle to hear what he was saying. It’s not particularly dramatic and comes across as boring rather than interesting.

That’s not to say Eddie Redmayne’s terrible, he’s just not as good as you’d expect an Oscar-winning actor to be. This isn’t Les Miserables Eddie Redmayne but neither is it Jupiter Ascending Eddie. His best scenes are his interactions with the magical beasts: his frantic attempts at trying to catch the Niffler are hilarious and well-played. In fact, he’s actually much better at the comedy in this movie than the more dramatic moments. Early rumours for the part of Newt Scamander were that Matt Smith would play the role though and now having seen the film I think he would have done a much better job. I can understand why they didn’t go for him however as the character is very similar to the incarnation of the Doctor Matt Smith played in Doctor Who and so would no doubt have drawn parallels between Newt and the 11th Doctor.

Overall, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is an entertaining spinoff of the Harry Potter series – but it doesn’t necessarily need the Harry Potter connection. It’s a great movie in its own right and often the references to the main series feel awkward. Eddie Redmayne is not as fantastic as Newt as you would expect either: if you watch this film on DVD or Blu-ray then you may need to increase the volume on your TV. Fantastic Beasts wonderfully captures the wonder and awe of the early Harry Potter films however and has a brilliant sense of humour. The scene where you see inside the suitcase for the first time is definitely the ‘Hogwarts’ moment of this franchise and feels just as magical as seeing Hogwarts for the first time on screen was. Fantastic Beasts is definitely a franchise you will want to return to again and again – so long as Eddie Redmayne stops emulating Robert Pattinson.

This is Sean Bassett, writing for Skatronixxx.com. You can find me on Twitter at @WhoPotterVian, as well as on the blog sites Dalekbuster Screen 5 Reviews (www.dalekbusterscreen5reviews.blogspot.co.uk) and The Representation of the Disabled In Film And TV (http://y3603032disabledfilmtv.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1). Please like the Unlucky Fred Facebook and Twitter pages (@unluckyfredfilm), a student film where I am working as the Production Designer.

I’m neither a Whovian or a Potterhead. I am a sandwich of both: a WhoPotterVian if you will.

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