Review – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Poster for 2016 fantasy Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, featuring the return to the Harry Potter world

Genre: Fantasy
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 18th November 2016
Runtime: 133 minutes
Director: David Yates
Writer: JK Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Carmen Ejogo
Synopsis: A magizoologist from Britain causes chaos in New York City when some of his magical beasts escape and run amok among the non-magic community, with the wizarding government on high alert.

 

 

Fans of the Harry Potter universe didn’t have to wait very long to be welcomed back into JK Rowling‘s wizarding world. With the launch of the Pottermore website in conjunction with the final film, they were treated to tidbits of knowledge as Rowling added backstory and details to her characters and the world in which they live. Meanwhile, stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been sold out repeatedly and become a publishing sensation. It was little surprise, therefore, when it was announced that a new film based on Rowling’s world, adapted from textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was on the way. It was more surprising when it emerged that the screenwriter would be none other than Rowling herself.

Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a case of magical creatures. When they begin to escape from his faulty case, Newt attracts the attention of failed auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and Muggle baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Meanwhile, a group of non-magic folk led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) are paranoid about the return of witchcraft to America. Mary Lou’s adopted son Credence (Ezra Miller) is passing information to security head Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) about a magical threat lurking in the streets.

Given the rather dismal selection of blockbusters that have graced cinemas this year, Fantastic Beasts is a real breath of fresh air. It’s a film that gracefully scribbles the first words for a whole new chapter of the Potter world, from the bizarre American wizarding vocabulary in which Muggle becomes ‘No-Maj’ to the opulent inner workings of MACUSA – the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic. Rowling playfully pushes at the edges of her world, exploring the further reaches of magic and Muggle interaction and providing us evocative glimpses of a new corner of the universe. One scene, in particular, brings to life a magical speakeasy that’s a raucous cross between Bugsy Malone and the Cantina from Star Wars.

 

 

Eddie Redmayne is enjoyable in the lead role as the gawky, awkward Newt Scamander and forms a charming relationship with Dan Fogler as Kowalski. Fogler is the Fantastic Beasts equivalent of Ron Weasley, providing the comic relief to Redmayne’s more serious performance. There’s also impressive support from Katherine Waterston as the exasperated ex-auror determined to ensure that Scamander is delivered to the correct authorities after unwittingly letting beasts run riot in the Big Apple. The changing, developing relationship she has with Scamander gives the film the underpinning of heart and mature emotion that has always powered Rowling’s best storytelling.

Fantastic Beasts also has a dark underbelly in the shape of a growing No-Maj movement to crack down on “witchraft” in America. Samantha Morton is terrifying as the leader of the “Second Salem” group and Ezra Miller gives another of his wonderfully dark performances in a subplot that could easily be called We Need to Talk About Credence. Hopping in and out of this storyline is Colin Farrell, whose character is one of the most interesting in the movie and a real feast of mixed motivations and murky morals. It’s all rooted in the ingenious new concept of ‘Obscurials’, which is set to loom large over the rest of this new franchise.

David Yates, who shepherded the final four Potter films on to the big screen, is a workmanlike presence in the director’s chair, content to allow Rowling’s vision to rise to the surface. It isn’t a visually showy film, but it’s one that brings its magical creatures to life along with the complex demands of its period setting, whilst carefully managing the balance between nabbing new fans and appealing to lifelong Rowling devotees. Fantastic Beasts is an utterly magical act of cinematic alchemy that comes together in a potion that would please even Severus Snape… probably.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

It may be a cliché to describe a Rowling-inspired film as magical, but that’s exactly what Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is. Rowling’s adoration for her universe comes through in a rich blockbuster film that has multiple layers of light and dark, creating a compelling new corner of the world we learned so much about during the Harry Potter series. Four more films suddenly sounds like a treat rather than a chore.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

 

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