The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Revlew: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (UK Cert 12A)

Let's be fair, the Harry Potter movie franchise is an absolute juggernaut. Eight movies, all expertly written, directed and acted. So the production team are obviously hoping that lightning is going to strike twice with the first of five films in the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them franchise. 

Written by J.K. Rowling, produced by David Heyman and directed by David Yates (who directed the last four Harry Potter films), Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them sees magizoologist Newt Scamander- author of the titular Hogwarts set text- in New York in 1926, having to hunt down a few of his errant creatures that escape whilst negotiating the hostility of a No-Maj (muggle/non-magical) society and the machinations of a very dangerous dark wizard: Gellert Grindlewald.  

Eddie Redmayne exudes a very lovely eccentric edge as Newt. If he wasn't already an Oscar-winning actor with a major franchise ahead of him, I'd suggest he submits this to the Doctor Who casting office in case they need to start looking for Peter Capaldi's replacement. There is a very Doctor-ish feel to Newt- slightly out of step with other humans, very focused on his own little world and with a dimensionally transcendental piece of apparatus (it's no exaggeration to say that Newt's suitcase is bigger on the inside).  

Katherine Waterston is similarly strong as demoted Auror Tina Goldstein who arrests Newt for being an unregistered wizard and then gets drawn in to his quest to reclaim his missing creatures. Threatening to steal the show, however, are Alison Sudol as Tina's mindreading and flirty sister Queenie and Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj cannery worker and aspiring baker who gets his suitcase swapped with Newt's and also gets drawn into a world he never knew existed. 

The rest of the cast are pretty good too: Samantha Morton is chilling as the dead-eyed fanatic Mary Lou Barebone, leader of the Second Salemers who call for wizards and witches to be destroyed. Ezra Miller is similarly good as her adopted son Credence, a young man with more than a few secrets of his own. It's odd to see an actor with the profile and presence of Jon Voight in a film like this, but he only has a glorified cameo as a newspaper magnate so doesn't bother unduly. The only dud note is Colin Farrell, who I just can't take seriously, especially as he's supposed to be the Head of Magical Security at MACUSA (the Magical Congress of the United States of America).

Visually, as you can imagine, the film is just stunning. Everything from the steam liner that Newt disembarks from at the very beginning to the sweeping grandeur of the MACUSA headquarters and the world within Newt's suitcase is just sublime. A quick trip to a magical speakeasy also provides scale but it's also in the smaller scenes- Queenie magically making a strudel, for instance- where the production design and the visual effects shine. The magical beasts, too, are similarly wonderful.  

This is a 12A so it's not all cutesy- there's some quite dark stuff within there, not least a murderous force created by a magical being suppressing their magical ability. There's child abuse, lost loves, a rather unpleasant near-death experience for one of the main characters and a resolutely downbeat moment in the rain (which, I don't mind admitting, I teared up to). There are glimmers of hope towards the end but you don't half go through the wringer to get there. 

This might sound like a bit of an odd complaint to have about a film called Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them... but I really could have done with there being more beasts. There are some wonderful set-pieces involving Newt trying to catch a Niffler (a kind of avaricious platypus, attracted to shiny things) and also trying to catch an escaped erupment (a large and horny cross between a hippopotamus and a rhinoceros) in Central Park. But the film almost treats these as side-shows, instead focusing on the political situation with the No-Majs versus MACUSA and the ever-growing threat of Grindlewald. I don't know whether they felt it would just be a series of set-pieces strung together with a flimsy plot if it was just Newt turning up trying to find things- nothing more than a big-screen version of Pokemon Go, perhaps?- and perhaps it might not sustain five films. 

This slight niggle aside, I found Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them to be a very strong start to the franchise and I look forward to seeing more.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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