By Jack Dignan
J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World has become one of the most iconic creations of all time. The Harry Potter saga spanned seven books and eight movies, and defined the childhoods/teenage years of a lot of people, myself included. They were all quite brilliant, and I still remember the excitement every time a new installment was to be released. It's a wonderful world, and while the Harry Potter franchise came to an immensely satisfying finale not too many years ago, the world is far from dead. Harry Potter never really ended, and releasing this week is the latest installment in this magical world, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. It's neither a prequel nor a spin off, but instead an all new story with (mostly) brand new characters.
Set seventy years before Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them follows the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a young wizard who was thrown out of Hogwarts many years ago. But alas, that didn't stop him, for he went on to travel the globe, helping and caring for as many magical creatures as he can, and during his travels he finds himself in New York City, which is very much foreign terrain for him. Due to a mishap with his briefcase, a lot of the creatures he stored inside escape, and to help get them back, he gets the help of a nomaj (non-magical person) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and sibling witches, Tina (Katherine Waterson) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol).
From the moment this film starts, beginning with a short snippet of the famous Harry Potter theme song that plays over the top of the opening logos, I was instantaneously drawn back into the world I know and love. It's a glorious, highly entertaining story that expands upon the already well-known lore, taking things to a new level and showing us a side of this universe we've only seen in part. With these characters already being well versed, adult wizards, there's no messing about. The film is extremely fast paced, bringing you right into the middle of the action, and everything from there on out is an utter delight.
In my opinion, what J.K. Rowling does best is create well realised characters. Sure, the stories she's able to tell are probably just as good, but a story is only as good as the characters who experience it. Once again, she's created a series of wondrous characters who I was more than pleased to spend a solid two hours with. Eddie Redmayne plays the mumbling, bumbling character we've all seen him play before, but Rowling is able to provide him with enough depth and interesting features to make him all the more likeable, proving him to be a character more than worthy of leading a franchise. We've only scratched the surface on who Newt is as a person, and I cannot wait to unravel more in future films.
For me, however, Newt wasn't nearly my favourite character in this film. He's great, don't get me wrong, and he ultimately ends up being the one with the most depth, as expected, but he wasn't my favourite. In fact, he was my third favourite. Dan Fogler's Jacob and Katherine Waterstone's Tina are absolute show stealers, and both for very different reasons. Jacob is a muggle who's brought into a world he didn't know existed, and he's got a sense of likability about him, as well as a goofy, fun-loving spirit. As for Tina, I really did like what Rowling did with her character. She's determined, hard hitting, oddly sentimental and has a rather interesting backstory that delivers a subtle, but worthy payoff late into the game.
Seeing these three, as well as the optimistic and happy Queenie, go searching for these truly fantastic beasts makes for an extremely fun adventure. It's exciting, action packed and full of stunning visuals. The story goes in a lot of directions, and I'll discuss the sub-plots in the next paragraph, but it's this main story that makes for the most delightful part of the film. The creatures are inventive and all sorts of loveable, especially the cheeky, gold-loving Niffler, who provides some of the biggest laughs. The film's visual effects are fairly obvious, but they're far from bad. They're really good, never once taking me out of the moment. What lies inside Newt's briefcase is visuals galore, and I could spend hours watching it all be explored.
Also included in the film is a sub-plot that involves Colin Farrell's relentless lawman, Percival Graves. He's investigating a great number of things, however one of his most predominant investigations revolves around Ezra Miller's shy young Credence. This plot has a lot going for it, constantly maintaining my interest, however for the most part, it just felt a little distant. Yes, things do eventually tie together, as expected, and bits and pieces fall into place along the way, but I didn't find it to be nearly as interesting as the main plot. Also, a certain *thing* is revealed towards the finale, and I have no problem with what the actual reveal was, but it didn't have as much levity as I would've liked. The stakes just needed to be a little bit bigger to get the shock value it was going for, which it only ended up mildly achieving.
For as much as I loved this movie, and no matter how great David Yates is at directing it, I just couldn't help but feel that the whole thing is all quite pointless. It's a really fun adventure, set to a wonderful score by James Newton Howard, but nothing about the film stood out as being tremendous. It's not a story that necessarily needed to be told, simply existing for the sake of making a few extra dollars. It's an interesting enough expansion of this universe, and I really can't wait to see it again, but do we seriously need to see five of these movies? I'm not sure. I'm excited to see where they're heading, and things look to be a little more important and relevant in the next installment, but as for this one, it's simply an unneeded, but entertaining story.
To sum up, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is no Harry Potter, but it was never going to be, and it still ends up being an exciting, sporadically funny, world building new installment in the Wizarding World. It's an utter delight to watch unfold, and while it's all an unneeded cash grab, it's one of the most entertaining cash grabs Hollywood have made yet.