Set 70 years prior to the Harry Potter series, J.K Rowling enters as screenwriter for the prequel continuation of her Wizarding World franchise – Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. Here’s what long time “Non-Potterhead” Joe thinks of the resurrected venture.
I dislike Harry Potter. At least, the film series. Sure, there’s a tonne of craftsmanship there to admire, and a lot of the supporting performances are memorable, yet there’s a pervading sheen to the film series, something cloying and culturally mundane that offends me, something slightly off-putting about the idealised version of “Little England” on display. I’ve always appreciated that to others, that doesn’t matter, but it’s something that’s stopped me, try as I might, to fully embrace the franchise. You might wonder why any of this is relevant, or question the validity of the following review because of it. But there’s a point to this preface, and it’s simply, this is the film that won me over.
Centering on Newt Scamander – played brilliantly and delightfully socially anxious by Eddie Redmayne – Hufflepuff, and author of the real and in-universe book “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” as he plants his feet on American soil on a quest to obtain the titular Beasts that have escaped his suitcase/lab/home/cage through a somewhat fateful meeting. Almost immediately he crosses paths with Jacob – Dan Fogler, displaying a nuanced performance that’s part Nathan Lane, part Remi the Rat – as the pair are inextricably thrown together in a quest of misplaced suitcases and escaped…you guessed it…beasts.
They are a dream, distinct, funny, endearing, and – so I keep telling myself – everything a younger Joe would have stared in awe at had I experienced it many, many years ago. Particular favorites include the Groot-like creatures, the Bowtruckles. For some, particularly fans of the books, this is an unmissable chance in seeing the expanded universe of Harry Potter creatures come to life in an emotive and at times, touching way.
Accompanying the sometimes hapless pair are sisters, ‘Tina’ Goldstein – a down on her luck member of America’s own answer to the Ministry of Magic, MACUSA – Queenie Goldstein – her slightly eccentric sister, the archetypal Blonde starlet, harkening back to actresses of the period like Fay Wray (there’s more King Kong comparisons ahead). Rising star Ezra Miller stars as Creedence Barebone and rounding off the strong casting, Colin Farrell as the shady MACUSA member, Percival Graves. The real standout interactions here surround Newt and Jacob’s touching chemistry during their budding friendship, whilst this element is never oversold so as to be forced, likewise Jacob’s developing romance with Queenie is never over-insinuated into proceedings, resulting in believable characters set amid a fantastical backdrop. Likewise, Newt’s love for these creatures serves as a touching tribute those with similar obsessions, convincingly conveyed in moments of outrage at the Wizarding World’s misunderstanding towards magical creatures.
I have to say I found the tone of Fantastic Beasts delightfully erring towards a darker place. In fact, there’s one moment where I actively started to question whether I was watching a movie predominantly aimed at children and young teens. It felt warranted, judging by the setting, which finds itself in-between two great muggle wars, pre-Voldemort, but living in the time of the dark wizard and terrorist, Grindelwald.
I think I only have one criticism and it’s pretty innocuous to say the least, and it concerns the third act of the film, which up till then had done so well to keep me engaged and close to childlike wonderment. It’s handled in a close to haphazard manner, there’s what we think is about to be a payoff that is over too soon and subsequently baited and switched before sinking into a worrying trend of bloated endings that serve to set up sequels. It’s strange when you consider the reverence and careful handling of the plot threads leading into the climax. But in terms of assuring us of the continuation of the Wizarding World at large, Fantastic Beasts succeeds in rapturous applause (This is literal, the screening I attended contained one of the most receptive and pleasant audiences I’ve been a part of).
In terms of sheer enjoyment and enthusiasm felt after viewing this I can safely assure fans and non-fans alike that this is a confident step forward for the franchise. Whilst the third act suffers the odd pacing issue “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” serves as a remedy for the disdain some have felt towards the much hyped “Part 8” – The Cursed Child – this is a bold and exciting fresh start for the franchise that I can safely count myself a newfound fan of. 2-3 years is a long time, eh?
Joe Crouch is a crusty mollusc with delusions of grandeur and pretensions of artistic endeavour. His tea is served between two and four. He tweets, infrequently @Grost and Instagrams his food @Sourcrouch.