Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell
Genre: Action/ Fantasy
In New York in 1926, young English wizard Newt Scamander (Redmayne) arrives with a suitcase filled with magical creatures. However, after an accidental mix up with the case of resident New Yorker and No-Maj (American for Muggle) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) some creatures escape. Now Newt, along with the help of Jacob and local wizard Tina Goldstein (Waterston) must catch his escaped creatures before they wreak havoc in New York and threaten the current peaceful secrecy of the wizarding world.
I think we all knew deep down that it was only a matter of time before we got more films that are part of J.K Rowling’s wizarding universe, as (whether this was ever an initial intention of hers or not), there is too much money to be made for them not to happen. Let’s face it, if she didn’t write it, then I am sure Warner Brothers would have paid a small fortune to acquire the rights to get someone else too. Though it is fair to say that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was never going to present any financial risks too anyone, her first foray into screenwriting was perhaps a slight risk for J.K Rowling, as screenplays are completely different beasts to novels (no pun intended).
Well, the result is a film that is certainly a welcome addition to the Blockbusters for this Christmas season in its own right, and it also has the potential to be a welcome addition to the long list of blockbuster franchises that we have these days. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is overall a very enjoyable and visually immersive blockbuster romp, though it certainly has its fair share of storytelling flaws too.
Rowling is not the only returnee to the franchise, and I am sure that this proves to be a good thing as franchise stalwart David Yates directs and he certainly plays his part and creating a visually immersive film, both in terms of the film’s recreation of 1920s New York but also the more magical moments. The plot itself (even the title in fact) suggest a hell of a lot of CGI, but though its use is of course inevitable, with the exception of the finale (again maybe inevitable), CGI is used refreshingly sparingly. The design of the creatures within Newt’s case are predictably often very cute, but impeccably designed. Composer James Newton Howard also brings expected vigour with his majestic score that only enhances some of the film’s stunning visuals.
The acting is also very good and the performances very much play their part in making the film such great fun, and crucially having characters that are genuinely engaging. I will be the first to happily say that Eddie Redmayne is an actor of limited range (Jupiter Ascending – oh dear!), but he seems to have a canny ability to pick roles that perfectly suit his range (on the whole at least) and him playing Newt Scamander does seem like perfect casting. A character that could have easily been very hard to like if written or played wrong, but as the socially awkward, sensitive, misunderstood outsider he has a lot of very relatable qualities. Rowling’s script hints at enough at his backstory without ever overdoing it and he is character worthy of protagonist status.
The rest of the cast are also excellent; Dan Fogler is equally engaging and hilarious as Jacob. As a human character (I don’t like using the word muggle as it seems unnecessarily derogatory), this allows Rowling to play with the very much tried and tested fish-out-of-water scenario very effectively, and Fogler’s performance perfectly captures the mind-blowing experience of Jacob’s with both great comic timing and a relatable quality. He also does share an excellent and surprisingly engaging bromance with Newt, making them a great double act. Excellent support is also provided by Katherine Waterston and Samantha Morton in roles that are pivotal to the plot, while Ezra Miller provides superb brooding intensity to his character of Credence Barebone. It is no spoiler to say that Colin Farrell’s character is a bit of a bad egg; the haircut and his facial expressions make that obvious in the trailer, and he is solid enough in a role that was never going to test his acting abilities.
For all of its engaging characters and great visuals, ultimately it is its actual storytelling that lets Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them down to stop it from being a truly great or memorable blockbuster. Rowling tries to cram too much mythology and setting up future films into the screenplay while also telling the main story of Newt and his creatures. Though the necessity to include both is certainly understandable, this does lead to a lack of genuine discipline with the narrative as the merging of these two stories does not fit well and does clunk at times and feel forced, with the actual overall narrative producing a finale that is just an explosion of CGI and a bit of anti-climax. Likewise, (as was always infuriatingly the case with Harry Potter) there is still too much lazy reliance on the fact it is magic without limitations, and can be used to get a character out of any situation or sort out any problem presented by the narrative.
In this day and age of lazy sequels and remakes, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them more than holds its own with enough genuine inventiveness, stunning visuals and engaging characters. It does seem obvious when watching that Rowling did not just write this script for the sake of it, and does genuinely care about these characters and their universe. This certainly comes through in the film and only serves to enhance its engagement, but she just needs to show more focus and discipline next time, and she may well write a truly classic blockbuster with one of the sequels.
It is by no means perfect, and though it is at times hampered by a few problems with its storytelling, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a visually immersive, often surprisingly engaging and highly enjoyable blockbuster romp.