Return to J.K Rowling’s Wizarding World with this first movie in a new prequel series. But does Fantastic Beasts recapture the magic of Harry Potter?
Potterheads have been waiting for another cinematic trip to the Wizarding World since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two in 2011 (which is somehow FIVE YEARS AGO). Now their prayers have finally been answered by Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a promised five film franchise. So how does it measure up? Well, while it is undeniably exciting to dive back into this universe, the movie is basically the Harry Potter equivalent of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It’s fun and it looks great, but it is more interested in setting up sequels than telling a fulfilling story in its own right.
Yes, in what might be a surprise for anyone who has adored Rowling’s ripping yarns on the page, her first screenplay is severely lacking in the plot department. As you might be able to guess from the premise, the narrative basically amounts to a series of episodic adventures as Newt and co chase various creatures around New York, which means the temp and pace slide at times. What Rowling does excel at is making some heavy-lifting world-building look easy as she paints an American society very different from HP‘s Britain – a country where growing hostility between the magical and non-magical worlds had led to the brink of war. There is also a lot of humour and gentle laughs to be had throughout.
The titular beasts themselves though are, well, fantastic creations. Kids and adults alike will love the Baby Groot-like Pickett the Bowtruckle, and the same for the pilfering Niffler and the psychic Demiguise. There’s also some comedy to be had from a frisky Erumpet and a gorgeous Hippogriff stand-in in Frank the Thunderbird. Kudos to the special effects team for continuing the good work done on the creatures of the Harry Potter movies. Likewise, David Yates is an old hat at directing Rowling’s work by now and he does another fine job with this magical period piece.
As for the human cast, they should also be commended for fleshing out Rowling’s unfortunately fairly one-note characterizations. Dan Fogel as audience identification figure – and the series’ first major muggle character – Kowalski and Allison Sudol as the flirty Queenie were both very charming and likeable. This isn’t one of Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne’s deepest roles but he excels at getting across Newt’s awkwardness among people and total joy and ease when he is with his beasts. Only Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein lacked charisma, in this reviewer’s opinion.
On the whole, Fantastic Beasts is not a bad film – as a rompy return to the Wizarding World, it serves up a diverting couple of hours. However, it leaves you with a sneaking suspicion that we could have just jumped straight to the bigger stuff to come in future films without the need for this one at all. So, by all means, give this movie a watch if you are a Rowling completest. However, if you’re looking for a fantastic beast of a film, you know where to find one: in your Harry Potter DVD boxset.
Here’s a bit of spoilery chat that I had to get out my system. Highlight below if you’ve already seen the film:
The best bit of the film was of course the surprise reveal that Graves is really Grindelwald all along. It comes as a great shock but Rowling actually teased the reveal throughout the film.
- Their surnames share the same first letter.
- Their hairstyles are similar.
- Graves specifically mentions Dumbledore’s liking for Newt and then pricks up at the mention of the phrase ‘For the Greater Good – this was the slogan Albus and he came up with in their youth.
- Finally, Graves wears a Deathly Hallows necklace – he is the current owner of the Elder Wand, remember.