Nearly five years since the last Harry Potter movie came out, JK Rowling returns with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel to the wizarding series that captured so many imaginations. Set in the 1920s, the only returning influence to the franchise is director David Yates, bringing the same flare and style that drove the last four films (and he’s set to continue with the next set of sequels too).
Otherwise the cast is completely new, along with an original script penned by Rowling herself, ensuring the magic and creativity of the series remains. Fans will surely appreciate this film for expanding on the world and the history, while non-fans can marvel at the spectacle of the movie, even if it makes little attempt to explain the world.
Eddie Redmayne is Newt Scamander, on his way through New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures which manage to escape, leading to shenanigans. Newt isn’t very conscientious of muggles (or ‘no-majs’ as they’re called in the USA) and frequently uses magic whenever he needs to, preferring to ‘obliviate’ (wipe the memories) of anyone he encounters. This immediately gets him into trouble with the wizarding community in America, where tensions between no-majs and witches/wizards are running high.
He's brought in for questioning by Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) before they leave to track down his missing creatures. They’re joined by Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a no-maj who mistakenly let the creatures escape and becomes the audience’s guide to magic.
Whilst Newt and his gang search New York, the movie also follows Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), another wizard who is searching for a mysterious child with magical abilities. Farrell gives a suitably stern, serious performance which could have used more development on screen. His investigation brings him to an orphanage/witch-hunting society run by an abusive mother and her crushed foster son Credence (Ezra Miller).
The film starts to feel a little bloated towards the beginning as these plots don’t seem to connect until all the pieces are revealed at the midway point. This leaves little room for the movie to breathe or develop its characters, but with four more films on the way we’ll no doubt see more of Newt and where these plot threads are ultimately leading. This leads to a similar situation to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, where efforts to resolve every plot leave the film with multiple endings. Until then, it is a spectacle of a movie – one of the best scenes involves a trip into Newt’s suitcase and the creatures he has within.
David Yates crafts beautiful set pieces in 1920s New York, using the setting to his advantage as well as terrific performances from the cast (Redmayne especially) to draw in the audience -though of course critics of his previous Potter films will find not much has changed.
Harry Potter fans will likely forgive the cramped story in exchange for the interesting characters, amazing action sequences, and of course fantastic beasts which really do steal the show; it’s also refreshing to watch the film without having a book to compare to. Non-fans can appreciate the comedy, action and romance, though it may be hard to follow sometimes. Moving at break-neck speed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a satisfying film that will leave you looking again for your letter from Hogwarts.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam