Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
“Explore a new era of J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world”
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) Movie Review
Director: David Yates
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol
Synopsis:Newt Scamander searches for a number of escaped beasts in 1920s New York.
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Some beasts, when their life comes to a natural end, simply refuse to die, so they reinvent themselves in a new form that is distinct from – but also reminiscent of – their former selves. Such is the case with the J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise which finally reached its conclusion five years ago. While Rowling’s subsequent fiction has had no connection to the long-running fantasy series that made her famous, her first screenwriting venture is, shall we say, a distant cousin that isn’t shy of using its tenuous connection to all things Hogwarts in order to generate mass interest. Sadly, many Potter fans might find themselves disappointed by a thin plot that’s hopelessly overwhelmed by the injudicious use of special effects in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Its hero is Newt Scamander, a rangy young man who was a pupil at Hogwarts when young Potter’s grandfather was nothing but a twinkle in his own father’s eye. Played with boyish charm by the under-nourished Eddie Redmayne (Jupiter Ascending), Scamander, armed only with a small, battered briefcase, stops off in 1926 New York upon completion of an odyssey to find and record as many of the titular fantastic beasts as he can,. The case he carries is no ordinary one, though; in fact, it shares the same space-expanding properties as Dr. Who’s Tardis (and Redmayne, not coincidentally one suspects, is strangely reminiscent of the good Dr), and is actually a portal to another dimension which provides a safe home to many of the creatures Scamander has encountered.
Upon his arrival in New York, Scamander crosses paths with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler – Barely Lethal), a factory worker who dreams of owning his own bakery and who possesses a case that is identical in appearance to Scamander’s if not in purpose. Inevitably, these cases are inadvertently switched, which causes some embarrassment to Scamander when he’s apprehended by young witch Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston – Robot & Frank, The Factory) and hauled before MACUSA (The Magical Congress of United States of America) for using magic in front of a no-maj (the American version of a muggle), and opens his case to reveal a selection of pastries. When Scamander, accompanied by Tina, catches up with Kowalski, he’s dismayed to discover that a number of the creatures in his case have escaped, and sets out to recapture them before they can cause too much havoc on the streets of New York.
For a supposedly wondrous fantasy Fantastic Beasts is a curiously uninvolving spectacle which completely fails to enchant in the way that it intends, despite a wealth of seamless effects. A talented cast delivers committed performances, yet even their sterling efforts can achieve little with characters that stubbornly refuse to come alive. Although studiously polite, Scamander cuts an emotionally remote figure, which sucks most of the life from a tentative romance with Tina, while Dan Fogler is called upon to do nothing more than look perpetually astonished in his role as audience surrogate. Scamander’s pursuit of the escaped creatures offers a functional plot at best, while a sub-plot in which high-ranking MACUSA enforcer Percival Graves, played with a pleasingly sinister edge by Colin Farrell (Winter’s Tale, Solace), seeks to obtain one of the creatures known as an Obscurial for his own gain, never really amounts to much.
Associated as it is with the Harry Potter franchise – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the title of the book on which Scamander is working, and will one day become required reading for Potter and his classmates – Fantastic Beasts was always going to have a lot to live up to. That it fails so abjectly to do so is therefore all the more disappointing. Rowling has expressed her intention to write the screenplays for all of the movies in the planned series of five; which must be something of a worry for Warners because, judging by her first attempt at screenwriting, it’s clear that her ideas need to be filtered through a professional screenwriter if they’re to come anywhere close to the success of the Potter movies.
(Reviewed 23rd November 2016)