Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Film Review by Emily Elphinstone
Director: David Yates
Writers: J.K. Rowling, J.K. Rowling (textbook)
Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell
In the world of big budget film, the much-anticipated follow up to a smash hit, results all too often in a sad rehashing of the same ideas. So it’s refreshing that J. K. Rowling has transplanted Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them away from Hogwarts, and into 1920s New York; opening up a new realm of characters, fresh threats, and a previously unseen proximity between Wizards and No-Majs (as Muggles are called in America.)
As newspaper headlines warn us in the film’s opening, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald has disappeared, after wreaking havoc across Europe. But in this atmosphere of suspicion, where interaction between wizards and no-majs is banned, and a campaign against witches is being run by the fanatic Mary Lou Barebone (the wonderful Samantha Morton); there are even more urgent threats to attend to: A mysterious force is causing devastation around the city, threatening to expose the wizarding community to further scrutiny.
Into this pandemonium walks Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne); arriving with an awkward gait, and a suitcase of endangered magical creatures, on the final stop of his research trip. When some of his more inquisitive creatures escape (including the platypus-like Niffler with its passion for jewellery), and no-maj factory worker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) becomes an unwitting witness of Newt’s magical escapades, it starts a journey across the city to find each animal. This quickly draws the attention of former Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), desperate to contain the escape and restore her standing in MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America).
As the opening film in a new series, Fantastic Beasts provides plenty of entertainment, along with the necessary exposition; though there are moments where the (stunningly rendered) creatures seem to over-power the real story. Colin Farrell is mesmerising as the sinister Congressman Percival Graves, and Fogler provides a real sense of joy as the no-maj experiencing the magical world for the first time. Hopefully we’ll see much more of him and his adoration for witch Queenie (Alison Sudol) in future. J. K. Rowling’s screenplay, supported by the direction of David Yates (who also directed the final films in the Harry Potter series), manages to strike the right balance between the familiar and the new; though this is undoubtedly a film for the hardcore Potter fans. There is a heartwarming call to welcome, rather than fear diversity and the unknown (particularly important in the current political climate), but one hopes that further films in the series will do more to embrace this in their casting as well as their message.
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It’s fun whenever it’s not focusing too much on its story. Nice review.