“You’re an interesting man, Mr. Scamander…”
If I were forced to name the three things that made me love the Harry Potter films so much, my first thought would be this is a strange demand for someone to be making of me but I would eventually settle on: the incredible cast, Hogwarts itself and the fact that each film stands up on its own. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them serves as a prequel of sorts to the Harry Potter films with the unenviable task of being stripped of everything that made them so loved in the first place.
That’s not to say that Fantastic Beasts doesn’t have a great cast, it does, it just leans heavily on relative unknowns in Dan Fogler and Katherine Waterston. Luckily both are strong, with Fogler particularly excelling as the lovable muggle Jacob Kowalski. Elsewhere, Eddie Redmayne is an inspired choice as the protagonist Newt Scamander, bringing a charming vulnerability to a heroic role. In many ways the MVP of Fantastic Beasts is Ezra Miller as tortured child prodigy Credence Barebone. He brings a quiet menace honed from playing a similarly troubled teen in We Need to Talk About Kevin.
In the absence of Hogwarts, Director David Yates takes us to New York in the 20s and this tonal shift is difficult to get on board with initially. The cosy and colourful world of Hogwarts is completely forsaken here as Yates attempts to capture the vibrancy of the Big Apple. While this works most of the time, there are scenes in this movie that stray too close to the glossy world of Marvel for my tastes although interestingly, Yates handles violence and destruction better than any of his peers over in comic book land.
One misstep however is the over reliance on CGI. Obviously special effects are a necessary evil when trying to create a spectacle but it sometimes feels a little overused here. Having said that, the fantastic beasts of the title really do look fantastic, taking visual cues from everything from Star Wars to the Pokemon universe.
The third and final deviation from the Harry Potter franchise is the amount of time given over to world building. It is clear within the first half an hour that pieces are being moved into place for a sequel and while some forward planning is acceptable, it sometimes restricts Fantastic Beasts from standing on its own two feet. What was the whole Jon Voight story line adding to this film for example? This is something the Harry Potter films handled perfectly, with every film having something to offer in its own right.
Overall, Fantastic Beasts works. Both as a welcome addition to an already beloved franchise but also as the beginning of something new. Also, Dumbledore is in the next one so it kind of has to be good.
Oh also, to use the vernacular of Alan Partridge, idea for a club night: Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them. It’s just a title at the moment but I think it has potential…