Director: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Jon Voight
Written by: J.K. Rowling
Running Time: 133 mins
Release date: 18th November 2016
Harry Potter Cosplayer rejoice! You can brush off your wizard’s cloaks and polish up your wands once more, as J.K. Rowling brings us back to her world of magic for a brand new adventure with a new character, new location and fresh story. Did we really need more of this kind of thing? Probably not but I have to admit, it entertained me, thanks to some inventive creations, beautiful production values and a cast giving it their all to sell it to us.
Newt Scamander arrives in New York during the 1920’s at a wrong time. The city seems to be under attack by some mysterious force. With his magical suitcase full of fantastic beasts, he becomes involved in the investigation as to what is occurring, when his case is mistakenly taken by Non-Mag (or Muggle) Jacob, who accidently lets some of the creatures out. With the help of Tina, a magician investigator, and her sister, Queenie, they must return the beasts to the case as well as help save the city from destruction.
Returning Potter director David Yates, who directed the final three films in that series, brings his obvious understand of Rowling’s world with plenty of confidence and aplomb. The film seems to have a much grander scale than the past films. Moving the action to New York in the twenties allow the production design team to move away from the gothic feel of Potter’s world and delivers a more eye-pleasing art deco look. The grand hallway of the American Ministry of Magic is a much more bright and vibrant place, with a huge clock informing the level of danger the city is under.
The general design is beautifully realised, from the streets of the city to inside Newt’s suitcase, which is another world entirely. Where the design really wins through are the creations of the various creatures, from the shiny loving duck-billed platypus looking beast to the giant golden bird that Newt wants to deliver to Nevada. This is a treat for both the eye and the ear. What also works are the smaller attentions to detail, and the subtle references to Potter’s world.
Where the film does suffer is from a plot that jumps all over the place. There are moments when you feel areas needed more development and with so many creatures around, it does have a familiar feel to the likes of Men In Black, especially when the wizards have to erase the human’s memory of the events around them. The twist doesn’t work, either, as it just seems far too obvious.
Thankfully, the cast throws themselves whole-heartedly into the story. Colin Farrell as Graves, a wizard on the case to find the truth about the destructions, is perfectly smooth and sinister in equal measures. Katherine Waterston as Tina makes for an agreeable female lead who manages to mix a stubborn determination with plenty of charm, while Alison Sudol as Queenie, is delightful as a kooky mindreader who finds herself falling for Non-Mag Jacob.
Dan Fogler, as Jacob, is a revelation. His clumsy human thrown into the world he didn’t have a clue existed is both comically perfect and somewhat sweet at the same time. His is a perfect foil to Eddie Redmayne’s brilliant creation, Newt. Carrying this huge film on his shoulders, Redmayne has produced a charming, awkward man who finds it hard to communicate with humans yet doesn’t mind throwing himself around in order to collect his precious beasts. Everything about Newt’s character is perfectly defined here, from his odd wardrobe to his walk. Here is a character who will be just as recognisable as Potter. Redmayne has become a big time movie star.
Fantastic Beasts is far from perfect. Yet, for me, it didn’t seem to matter. This is a perfect slice of popcorn entertainment, stepping into the space emptied by Rowling’s famous boy wizard. It’s funny, exciting and visually pleasing. It may be a little messy in places but it can be forgiven. With another four films planned, I hope that our time with Newt Scamander will be just as enjoyable.