FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (UK/USA/12A/132mins)
Directed by David Yates. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Colin Farrell
THE PLOT: Seventy years before Harry Potter picks up Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) textbook on magical creatures at school, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows Scamander as he journeys to New York in the 1920s. The divide between the wizarding community and No-Majs – American wizard slang for Muggles – is strong and with the combined threat of evil wizard Grindelwald on the run, and a magical creature stalking New York City, Scamander probably could not have picked a worse time to visit the city.
THE VERDICT: ‘Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them’ is set within J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world, but those hoping for a Potter cameo or two will be disappointed; this film is not only set a long time before Harry’s adventures, but it is an entirely new story from Rowling; the first of her wizarding stories for the screen not to be based on a book, but written with cinema in mind.
Eddie Redmayne leads the cast as Newt Scamander, and makes the character gentle and kind, with an affable air and a bumbling English charm. Redmayne, unsurprisingly, carries the film ably, and easily introduces audiences to this new and unfamiliar magical world. Katherine Waterston plays Porpentina Goldstein, a disgraced Auror who knows that Scamander is up to something, even if no-one believes her, and Colin Farrell plays the menacing and mysterious Percival Graves in a beautifully understated and light performance. Elsewhere, Dan Fogler plays Jacob Kowlaski, a No-Maj who finds himself drawn into the magical world, Alison Sudol plays Porpentina’s sister Queenie, Samantha Morton plays a No-Maj named Mary Lou, Ezra Miller brings the creepy as Creedence and Carmen Ejogo plays Seraphina Picquery.
J.K. Rowling’s screenplay feels as though it is a fully realised world and, since most of the characters in the film are adults, the restrictions put upon Harry and his friends in the previous films do not apply, meaning magic abounds and to wonderful effect both for the look and the feel of the film. Since ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is not based on a novel – although it is inspired by a novella of the same name, which Rowling wrote for charity – the slavish attention to the source material that the Harry Potter films were often bogged down by is absent, meaning this film feels self-contained and fully realised, and can follow the rules of story-telling for cinema without having one eye on a novel. The dialogue in the film is lovely and only as expository as it needs to be, and the characters are well rounded and realised on screen. As well as this, this new world that J.K. Rowling has created feels fully realised and the film is well balanced between being a light hearted caper, and the more traditional world threatening tale that we would expect from Rowling.
As director, David Yates obviously has fun with the new characters, coaxing strong performances from his cast, and this new world, where the rules of the Harry Potter franchise do not always apply. There are times where the film feels slow and ponderous, but although the story may not really move for the first hour, it is still a pleasure to spend time in Rowling’s all new wizarding world.
In all, ‘Fantastic Beasts’ and Where to Find Them is an all-new magical delight. The cast are all on great form, breathing life into this magical caper with a dark ending. The addition of magical creatures brings comedy and light, with the darker elements of the story creeping through the entire film until they reach boiling point. This is the start of a whole new franchise for Rowling, and with ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, it is off to a flying start.
RATING: 5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    While it’s been five years since the lucrative Harry Potter film franchise wrapped up, it seems that there’s still much to discover in the wizarding world of J.K. Rowling’s mind. Either that or Warner Bros are anxious to find a new magical cash cow. The first step towards a non-Potter franchise in this world appears in the appealing form of Fantastisc Beasts And Where To Find Them.

    Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a mildly eccentric wizard with a mischievous spirit and a nervous habit of avoiding eye contact with people. He’s more in tune with the magical creatures that he keeps locked in his briefcase, which can also act as a TARDIS-like portal to other places and his own special environment. Arriving in 1920s New York, he finds himself regarded with suspicion by Porpentina (Katherine Waterston) after his creatures escape from the briefcase. She works for the Magical Congress of the United States and charges him with breaking their wizarding laws which could result in no-majs or muggles finding out what’s really going on underneath the surface. No-maj Jacob (Dan Fogler) becomes a witness and is scooped up in Newt’s adventures, which also involves wizarding boss Percival (Colin Farrell) and anti-witch protesters Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) and her troubled son Credence (Ezra Miller)…

    As Rowling has stated, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. Other than fleeting references to Hogwarts and Albus Dumbledore, those looking for early links to Harry Potter will be disappointed. This is instead an altogether different beast, but with the same atmosphere of ever-present magic and otherwordly goings-on. The title is a reference to Newt’s book that Harry Potter will one day read in class. From that Rowling has sprung forth a more mature world populated mostly by adults and a different environment for our characters to play around in.

    The urban American setting, in the art-deco era of New York, is visually sumptuous. Kudos to returning Potter veteran David Yates and his production design team led by Stuart Craig and James Hambidge. They conjure up some impressive sets and capture that 1920s, pre-Crash feel of a thriving and prosperous metropolis. The story itself mostly concerns Newt rubbing up the American wizards the wrong way, as magic spills out into the real world with disastrous effects. There’s a playful sense of humour to it, thanks to Redmayne’s likeable rogue and Fogler’s constantly-amazed New Yorker. Fogler quite rightly steals the show, along with one particular, bling-loving fantastic beast.

    There are some slip-ups along the way though. Farrell is under-used and is never really given the chance to make his character more than what’s on the page. Though, there may be a reason for him being under-used. Likewise with a criminally under-used Morton who just glowers and doesn’t have much else to do. It’s a touch overlong as well, with several The Return Of The King-style endings. There’s plenty of scope here for more films. In fact, four more films have been announced with Yates returning to the director’s chair for all of them. That’s him sorted for the next decade. A trilogy seems more appopriate though. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them isn’t quite fantastic, but it’s at least entertaining and has its own undeniable charm. Even for a muggle like this one. ***

  • emerb

    “Fantastic Beasts” is a smart and engaging prequel to the lucrative Harry Potter series. It is a spectacular fantasy, action-adventure with a screenplay written by JK Rowling (her first film script) and directed by longtime Harry Potter veteran David Yates. Together they have created an entirely new vision of the wizarding
    world and one that is sure to delight audiences the world over, who won’t already know the plot this time around. The “Harry Potter” universe is one of the greatest achievements in the world today and this prequel shows that it is showing no signs of slowing down. Instead, JK Rowling is expanding on this universe and taking it in an entirely new direction. Set in New York City in the buzzing pre-war era, this film centres on a bumbling wizard, a rather delightful young Brit who causes chaos by unleashing a bottomless suitcase full of exotic creatures, which are brought to life with magical CGI.

    Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is at the heart of the story. It’s 1926 in New York and he arrives with the key to the whole film under his arms – his expansive, magical and battered brown leather suitcase with a very insecure clasp. It is where he keeps his eponymous beasts which he must keep hidden at all costs. One of his naughty animals escapes – a cute little mole “Niffler” who has
    a passion for stuffing shiny items into his pouch. He scrambles into a bank and in the confusion, Newt’s case gets switched for that of a “no maj” (American for “muggle”), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a chubby but amiable baker who knows nothing of magic. Once Kowalski inadvertently lets loose some of the animals, they wreak havoc on the city. By the time Newt realises he has the wrong luggage, he finds himself in the custody of Tina (Katherine Waterston), a disgraced former security officer with the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) who wants to turn them in. However, the Director of Magical Security called Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) accuses her of working with Newt and they are forced to go on the run. Jacob joins forces with Newt, Tina and her mind-reading sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) to retrieve the creatures before the public realise there are powerful beings in their midst. As they try to collect all the escapees without making all of Manhattan aware of the magic around them, Percival is on their trail, with some mysterious goals connected
    with Ezra Miller’s Credence, the adopted and abused) son of creepy anti-witch
    activist Mary-Lou (Samantha Morton).

    The ever likeable and endearing Eddie Redmayne is a perfect fit for Newt Scamander. With the requisite geeky charm and sheepish persona, he radiates a warm glow throughout. His Newt is an eccentric wizard, a connoisseur, a scientist and a scatterbrain but his real skill is giving us such a beguiling performance with the various magical beasts which is utterly charming to behold. The rapport he generates with the nifflers, bowtruckles, erumpents and so on, gives the picture a real emotional heart. The entire casting of this film is terrific and the chemistry between its four heroes is totally irresistible. The budding
    attraction between the flirty Queenie and the sweetly timid Kowalski is the film’s most charming detail and their romance gives it a real spark. One particular dinner scene was a real highlight for me. Katherine Waterston impresses as Tina and it’s good to see a really strong young female lead who can tackle evil just as good as any man. Colin Farrell is rather captivating as Percival Graves, the wizarding world’s chief of secret police. “Fantastic Beasts” has all the
    makings for a big family blockbuster. Rowling and Yates have given us a terrific, exciting, unpretentious and irresistible film rich with superb visual effects. The individual sequences are exciting and visually inventive and there are some nice touches of humour, mostly provided by Jacob’s disbelief in the magical world. The film is a wonderfully crafted production with a dazzling 1920’s Manhattan giving us glimpses of a seedy jazz club filled with the most bizarre creatures to an explosive finale in Manhattan’s old City Hall subway station. This movie is sure to draw in huge crowds from the major Potter fans to those who enjoy an entertaining fantasy film. Even though we have an entirely new cast, Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell bring star power of their own. This movie is due to be the first in a series and I have no doubt JK Rowling has plenty more magic up her sleeves for future instalments. Coming towards the end of the year, “Fantastic Beasts” is a very welcome treat and one which I would happily watch again.