Review of 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'

1st film in the 'Fantastic Beasts' series

fantastic_beasts.jpg Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a young wizard from England, arrives in 1920s New York carrying a suitcase full of magical creatures he has collected and now protects from around the world as he seeks to encourage other wizards that these creatures are not to be feared. In the US, there is a fragile peace between the magical and non-magical (“non-mag”) community that is strained by a series of attacks on the city that appear to be caused by the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) is the outspoken leader of the “New Salem Philanthropic Society” which is determined to eradicate witchcraft. She uses local street children to distribute flyers throughout the city. Newt wanders the streets looking for somewhere to stay but has an accidental encounter with baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) applying for a bank loan - An encounter that takes a turn for the worse as a creature escapes from Newt's bag. Both Newt and Jacob are taken into custody by an over-zealous Auror (think of them as magic police), Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). Tina eventually warms to Newt's humble spirit but when she learns that several beasts have escaped from Newt's suitcase she wonders whether the attacks could be caused them rather than Grindelwald. It is up to them to round up the creatures and stop the terror that worsens by the day..

A lot of great looking stuff on the screen here but at the heart of the film Redmayne as Newt never really seems to lend himself towards emotional attachment other than perhaps in a “oh dear, he is so innocent” type of way. There is a distinct lack of depth as we understand little of his past nor even of his real feelings at what is going on around him with his face pretty much holding the same shy and dejected look throughout - A somewhat distracting way of always looking at the ground and talking out of the side of his mouth with the occasional glance upward, as warranted. This has to be only big complaint I have about the film as the rest of the cast completely draw you in. The wonderful “fish out of water” non-mag Jacob steals the scenes in which he features as the people around him use magic as part of normal life and, indeed, this brings me to another complaint - The magic here is treated without a lot of wonder as wands are waved and things just magically happen without a lot of effort such as the multiple scenes where buildings are rebuilt from rubble (there are a lot of these) as wizards walk the street waving their wands at them. There does not appear to be a lot of spell-craft here just “wands as weapons and tools” with a distinct lack of any other fun use of magic. Finally, the cruelty of Barebone was quite a shock to the system with the otherwise child-like innocence to the rest of the film though the violence is often hinted at it is quite brutal in nature for modern sensibilities.

A surprise cameo by Johnny Depp as Grindelwald at the end was a bonus and lit up the ending for me despite the short time he is on the screen. If the franchise continues it would be nice to see more of him.

Fans of the Harry Potter series will obviously be the first in the line to see this and I don't think they will be disappointed when they see more of the magical world of J. K. Rowling though without the richness of the books released prior to the film to encourage the fans it is unclear as to whether we will see more of Newt or, indeed, other films from Rowling. We have to compare this film to the Potter films as it is clear this film could not stand alone without them. Fantastic Beasts assumes a level of understanding of the wizarding world that would likely leave newcomers completely in the dark. Though Jacob's viewpoint here obviously helps here there are things that are never specifically explained here that only viewers of the other films will appreciate.

Fantastic Beasts is an interesting and amusing adjunct to Potter but lacks any significant amount of depth. It is a lot of fun to watch but does not itself have the sense of fun found in the Potter films.

Rating: “It is OK but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2016-11-22

Directed by: David Yates

Studio: Heyday Films

Year: 2016

Length: 133 minutes

Genre: Fantasy

Other reviewed films in the 'Fantastic Beasts' series:

Other reviewed films by David Yates: