Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them (2016): Film Review

Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller
Viewed: Showcase Cinema De Lux, Leicester, 29/11/16
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them finally brings us back to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world after much anticipation. This time we travel to 1920s America, a new setting for a new era. Before I proceed any further, this review is coming from someone who is not much of a fan of Harry Potter, not that I dislike it, I’m just not overly enthused by it either. In the build up to Fantastic Beasts, I’ve heard a mixed bag of views, fans of Harry Potter who were dead excited to be returning to the wizarding world, with equal amounts of fans worried that this film would ‘ruin’ the franchise (a phrase I never understand, even if this film is terrible, you can still view the Harry Potter films, and they’ll still be as great as they always were, nothing ruined there). So, not from a fan of the wizarding world, but a fan of film in general, let’s do this.

Fantastic Beasts begins with the arrival of Newt (Eddie Redmayne), a British magi-zoologist, in New York with a case full of magical creatures. After some of his creatures manage to escape, Newt has to track them down and get them back, or else he risks the exposure of the wizarding world, or in his opinion, risks his creatures being harmed by the most dangerous species on the planet, humans. Early on, Newt meets Kowalski, a no-maj (the American word for muggle, or non-magic folk for you non-HP fans), and the two form an unlikely friendship, as across the pond, the wizarding world deems it inappropriate for wizards and witches to mingle with ‘normal’ people. Due to the time and location Fantastic Beasts is set in, we get a completely fresh perspective of the wizarding world, with new things to be learnt, though to Harry Potter fans, all of it will seem relatively familiar. In terms of the characters, I have to say I wasn’t a fan of many of them at all really. Even our protagonist wasn’t much of a likeable character, and if you’ve seen any interviews with Eddie Redmayne in real life, you’ll perhaps appreciate that it didn’t seem like he had to put much effort into the character of Newt. Redmayne is a terrific actor, that cannot be disputed, but I just couldn’t find Newt, Eddie Redmayne essentially played Eddie Redmayne. The exception I have to this point is Dan Fogler as Kowalski, he was easily the most enjoyable character in Fantastic Beasts. As a no-maj, it was fun and hilarious to see some of his reactions to magic and the magical creatures he encountered, and as an audience we were able to empathise with him, discovering elements of the wizarding world just as he was.
Now, up until this point, between the magical creatures, the chase to get them back and the humour, Fantastic Beasts can be described as a fun film, one that if I had kids, I’d be willing to take them to see. However, there is more going on with Fantastic Beasts, a sub-plot that I won’t go into detail about at the risk of spoiling anything, but it was actually pretty dark, with child abuse being at the forefront. Now, I have no problem watching something like this (within reason), but it violently shifted the tone of the movie on several occasions. At one point we were watching Newt and Kowalski chasing magical creatures, laughing along the way, only to be abruptly dumped into a scene where Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) was being abused by his foster mother. This film is only a 12a, so it’s nothing graphic, but it wasn’t always pleasant to watch. Although the two stories become ultimately intertwined, it did feel like I was watching two different films at times. On top of this, the story with Credence was obviously going to be integral to the overall plot, but everything seemed to happen in the last thirty minutes of the film, and it all came to a very abrupt end. Again, without spoiling anything, there was a scene towards the end of the film on a railway that was pretty poorly executed in just about every way possible.

J.K. Rowling has stated that Fantastic Beasts is not a prequel, though I would dispute that, as certain elements of this film will have a far bigger impact on those who have read the Harry Potter books than those who haven’t. Fantastic Beasts was gorgeous to look at and mostly fun to watch, but I’m hesitant to say I’m looking forward to Fantastic Beasts 2, as I don’t think it will have much right to call itself that. I’m doubtful that the story moving forward will have much to do with magical creatures, with them only being used in this film as a plot device to introduce us to the American wizarding world, and set up what the actual story will be in future films. As a result, in years to come, I don’t think Fantastic Beasts will stand up as a great stand-alone film, but as a necessary one in order to get to the things that really matter.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was an enjoyable if not perfect: 7/10
Fun fact – Eddie Redmayne worked out for a considerable amount of time prior to filming, due to just one short topless scene he had to be in. The scene was cut from the film.

Stuart Keating