Director: David Yates
Writer: J.K. Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Sam Redford, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton
It’s been five years since audiences savoured the magical world of Harry Potter. Long gone is the familiar landscape of Hogwarts, the much loved professors and the familiar characters we all grew to love. In their place is 1920s New York in all its gothic goodness. It’s beautifully dated landscape serving as a perfect backdrop to the continuation of the dark, grittier tone seen in the Deathly Hallows.
Nothing can serve as a better indicator for just how difficult a task JK Rowling, Warner Brothers and David Yates faced when trying flesh out a viable story to kickstart the new franchise than the similarly titled book which helped spawn the latest film. At just 128 pages long, the relatively short encyclopaedia of magical beasts by Newt Scamander perhaps explains why the new film splits into two parallel stories early on in the first act. With very little source material available, they worked wonders in creating a brilliant origin story and introduction into the early years of the Potterverse.
We primarily follow the adventures of the aforementioned Newt(Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist, who arrives in New York with a suitcase that resembles Doctor Who’s Tardis, chock-full of weird and wondrous beasts. Here on a field trip for a new book which he is penning, he soon bumps into the bungling Jakob Kowalski(Dan Fogler), a down on his luck, No-Maj (the US equivalent of a Muggle), who inadvertently switches cases with our protagonist, letting half a dozen of these beasts escape into the city. Together with Porpetina Goldstein(Katherine Waterston), a disgraced Auror, and her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), Newt and Jakob must try and hunt down the escaped beasts before they can wreak further chaos in the city.
Unfortunately for Newt, this mistake couldn’t have came at a worse time with MACUSA (the Magical Congress of the United States) enforcing extremely strict rules on relations between the magical and non-magical community, whilst also outlawing the ownership of magical beasts. This is further exacerbated with a host of terrifying attacks happening throughout the city and seemingly being perpetrated by a dark, uncontrollable power. This brings us onto darker underlying story of the film.
The film is set in 1926, during the rise of the infamous dark wizard Grindelwald(Johnny Depp). In the opening of the film we see him kill five wizards in cold blood and then various shots of newspapers reporting his mysterious disappearance after his misdeeds. Although we see just a minor cameo at the end, it’s no secret that future films in the series will primarily follow Grindewald’s story and eventual titanic clash with Dumbledore, so it was an exciting glimpse into what lies in the future. With bigger things clearly intended for future films in the franchise.
The CG was consistently excellent, none more so in the consistent wave of destruction created by the Obscurus throughout. Whilst the beasts themselves were beautifully realised and their big personalities really shone through, helping to liven up the slightly duller first act. The antics of Pickett and the kleptomaniac, Niffler, with a penchant for stealing shiny objects provided plenty of laughs and entertainment. And nobody who watches the film will forget about THAT mating dance with the rather strange Rhino like creature. Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of the shy, quirky, oh so Hufflepuff, Newt was wonderful. But it was the performance of Dan Fogler as the hapless Kowalski that really stole the show, with his character bumbling into one misadventure after another and his enthusiasm at discovering a whole new magical world really imitating that of the viewers.
JK, much like what she did with the trio in the Harry Potter films, manages to create a strong quartet in Newt, Jakob, Tina and Queenie that really anchor the film through the various action set pieces in the third act of the film.
An honourable mention must be given to Graves(Colin Farrell), who plays the part of a minor villain well enough, although his reveal as a transfigured Grindelwald at the end was slightly predictable and he never really reached the levels of a Voldemort-esque threat.
Fantastic Beasts offers a very promising beginning to the new series and lives up to the expectations I had for it beforehand. If you’re a Harry Potter fan and have not seen this film then I strongly recommend watching it. It has lots of little nods that will delight fans of the series and even if you’re not a fan, but would like to see a good, solid fantasy, action/adventure film then I would also recommend it.