Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a prequel/spin-off of the Harry Potter franchise and is the first film in a planned 5 film series. The film follows Magizoologist Newt Scamander as he arrives in New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures, and when an encounter with No-Maj (American Muggle) Jacob Kowalski causes some of his Beasts to escape into New York, Newt and others must track them down before they hurt others or themselves. The film offers a familiar yet different setting from the Harry Potter films, as it’s set in America in the 1920s. We see new aspects of the wizarding world, such the American Wizarding Government MACUSA (the Magical Congress of the United States of America), but it is still a return to the world of magic that we love and they really play off of that. You can’t help feeling excited when the music starts and as this was written by J.K Rowling and directed by David Yates, director of the last four Harry Potter films, you feel like you’re in the right hands. Fantastic Beasts stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller and Alison Sudol.
Where Fantastic Beasts shines the most are the beasts themselves. There are a bunch of really fun and imaginative animals and the scenes where Newt (Redmayne) and Kowalski (Fogler) are trying to recapture them are very exciting and comical. The Beasts are the thing that feels most fresh and magical in the film, with their creative designs and fun magical qualities they are, as the title says, fantastic! The wonder of the monsters is sold perfectly by great performances by Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler. Watching the socially awkward Newt and the confused but intrigued No-Maj Kowalski try to recapture the Beasts is highly entertaining. Newt is a very different lead to Harry Potter, he’s socially awkward and hides past pain, and Eddie Redmayne portrays this very well. The compassion and care he shows to creatures that the rest of the magical community fear and hate makes him a very sympathetic character, and as we see the creatures through his eyes we love them as much as he does. The stand out for me though was Dan Fogler, he had so much energy and was a great comedic character. He also acted as the connection between the audience and the magical world, so he was the most relatable character as he was as fascinated by everything as we were. The chemistry between Redmayne and Fogler was highly entertaining to watch. Colin Farrell was also very good as MACUSA official Percival Graves, playing a darker character than others and bringing a subtlety to the film that was lacking in a lot of the performances.
My issues with the film come from when it strayed away from the ‘Wizards hunting animals’ story that was advertised. You could really tell that this was the first film in a long series as it got annoyingly bogged down in set up, as a lot of franchise films do nowadays. If you know the Harry Potter films (which most people do) you’ll spot the references and set up a mile away as it’s mostly to do with Grindelwald. It almost felt like two films jammed together, one of which was a really good and fun monster hunting story and the other was a dull set-up film which felt very forced. This resulted in some awkward pacing, especially during the first act, which made the film drag in places. I wanted to see more of the Beasts and less of the American Wizard government and their hunt for Grindlewald, which in the end made me feel a little disappointed as a standalone film just about monster catching would have felt fresh and new. I also found some of the action hard to follow and quite disorientating, especially towards the final act.
Finally, and this is just a problem I have with a lot of the Harry Potter films, I felt like the wizard-on-wizard fights were quite unimaginative. I love it when wizards fight in the books because they cast lots of different spells that do weird and cool things to defeat their opponents, but in this film when they fight no one says anything and they just fire generic blue light out of their wands and all it does is knock people over and make walls explode. It’s just not as fun as someone shouting “Rictusempra” to give their rival a tickling fit, and while there is some of that at the beginning, it quickly becomes generic blue light.
Overall, while I did have issues with some aspects of the film, by biggest complaint is that I wanted more of the stuff that was really good. It was nice to be back in this world and the lead performances and fantastic Beasts make this a very enjoyable film. If you are a fan of Harry Potter you’ll definitely enjoy it.
P.S The end action scene made me feel a little sick and dizzy, but that might just be because I was on the front row and that is a terrible place to sit especially for an action film, the screens just too big from there!