NOTE: While my reviews try to be as spoiler-free as possible, a quick reminder that everyone’s definition of a spoiler is different. So if you are particularly spoiler-phobic, read on at your own risk.
Welcome back, dear readers, to another film review as, for the first time since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, J.K. Rowling invites us back into the magical wizarding world of Harry Potter with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This new film is, for those still unaware, set in the 1920’s in New York, and focuses on magizoological travels of Newt Scamander.
Now, you might notice from that small sentence that this is, indeed, the beginning of a prequel series – a phrase that should send up a few alarm bells for anyone unfortunate enough to have sat through Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace or The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Fortunately, this film completely blows those two movies out of the water in quality, and fits much better into the world already established on screen in the original series.
Also contains a lotsa less-a of a this-a guy.
As touched upon at the top of this review, Fantastic Beasts is primarily the story of Newt Scamander. A gifted but eccentric expert in magical creatures, Newt travels to New York as part of an expedition carrying a magical suitcase filled with supernatural creatures of all shapes and sizes. But following a mix up involving a No-Maj (the American term for a Muggle) named Jacob, many of these creatures are released into the streets of New York. Newt and Jacob, along with a government Auror named Porpentina and her sister, Queenie, soon find themselves racing around the city trying to retrieve all of the creatures, while trying to avoid the magical authorities led by another Auror, Percival Graves, who blames them for a dangerous magical force that is terrorizing wizards and No-Maj alike. And, hovering around everyone from the very beginning, is the threat from Europe (no, not that threat) as dark wizard Gellert Grindlewald begins to amass followers and threaten all out war.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this movie, but the main crux of the movie rests on the four protagonists and their quest to recover Newt Scamander’s menagerie. And the main reason this movie works is the performances and the chemistry between the 4 actors. Comedian Dan Fogler is very funny and charming as Jacob, singer Alison Sudol brings a sweetness to Queenie and rising actress Katherine Waterston is fantastic as the troubled Porpentina. On the other hand, Eddie Redmayne (who plays Newt Scamander) is a different case. During the press tours for this film, Eddie has publicly stated that he’s always wanted to play the role of The Doctor in Doctor Who. And it shows in this performance, which is charming and works well with his co-stars despite the fact that is pretty much a note-for-note imitation of Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor.
“I’m a wizard now. Wizards are cool”
The supporting cast of this film is very mixed in their effectiveness. On one hand, you have some excellent performances from Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller, who play Percival Graves and a young informant, respectively. On the other hand, 2 of Hollywood’s elder statesmen – Ron Perlman and Jon Voight – are set to join the growing list of highly talented performers to be completely wasted by the Harry Potter franchise. It’s a prestigious list, that already includes such talents as John Cleese, Miriam Margolyes, David Tennant and Bill Nighy, but it’s a long-term weakness in this film franchise. A huge, varied character list works well for Rowling’s novels, but on screen it can get cluttered.
On a similar vein, this is a film that definitely tries to fit a little bit too much in. There’s 2 subplots in particular – one involving Ezra Miller’s strange family (his mother is a conspiracy theorist that is trying to bring back the Salem witch trials, an individual who causes some concern to real life witches and wizards) and another that includes Jon Voight’s son running to be the No-Maj President of the United States – that both felt quite a bit out of place. I understood why they were included, but there were better ways to make both points in a more streamlined method in my mind.
Outside of that, the only other negative that I had was in regards to the CGI. It was better than it looked in some of the trailers – something is quite common – but it still was obviously CGI in many parts. This mostly involved the beasts, many of which were either cute or awe-inspiring, but none of them looked as convincing as Buckbeak from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – which was quite a while ago now. I do worry how well this film will age as a result.
That said, I enjoyed this film more than I probably should have based on those flaws, although it’s not as many flaws as some of the original Potter movies (looking at you, Goblet of Fire). And a lot of this is due to the world building. In the way she has created this entire Wizarding World, J.K. Rowling has joined an elite group of world-building storytellers – on par with the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas – and you can’t deny that it’s a joy to return to this world. And the main characters were so easy to fall in love with that I am really excited to see where this new prequel series will take us into the future.
3.6/5 – It has its flaws but a very solid beginning to the new series.
And finally, since this was a talking point amongst like, 3 of you, when I did this for Marvel, here is my current rankings of all the films in the Harry Potter universe so far.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire