The global success of JK Rowling’s wizarding world of Harry Potter has provided her with the freedom to breathe new life into the franchise, transporting audience members effortlessly from Hogwarts to the wider world, which allows viewers to rediscover the magical appeal of spells, wizardry and, of course, fantastic beasts.
As a prequel of sorts, the film begins with the origins of the Hogwarts textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Set in 1920s New York, the book’s author Newt Scamander has arrived for a brief stopover, however, he quickly finds himself in trouble with the Magical Congress. It seems his trip could have gone without incident if the valuable contents of his suitcase did not escape. With dark forces dominating New York, he sets about the chaotic task of recapturing his beasts with the aid of disgraced Magical Congress employee Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and ‘no-maj’ Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).
Whilst the film maintained the enchanting qualities that drove the Harry Potter films, it did feel that Rowling’s quintessentially British fantasy had lost a part of its appeal by moving to the United States. This sense was furthered by the fact that Rowling’s screenplay referred to citizens as a ‘no-maj’ opposed to a ‘muggle’, an arguably trivial factor but nevertheless one that certainly did not go unnoticed in the cinema.
Nevertheless, it was fresh and exciting to view the wizarding world that audiences have become enthralled by for many years from another perspective. Previously, we had only seen the Hogwarts dimension of the wizarding realm, but this film brought an entertaining twist to Rowling’s fictional world by incorporating the bustling jazz age of America. There is something joyful about stepping into the Potter-verse and looking at it through Hogwarts-tinted glasses that helps us to relive the charming magnetism of New York in its most muddled and gothic state.
Eddie Redmayne is perfect for the unique role of Newt Scamander as he provides an injection of fresh blood to the cast as well as an endearingly awkward personality to the character. The majority of his dialogue is delivered whilst staring at other people’s shoes and his stuttering rushes of enthusiasm only enhance the great diffidence of Newt Scamander. The creatures contained within the case are detailed and carefully created, blending wonderfully into the world that the four-time Potter director David Yates produced.
Yates and Rowling together have generated another successful film that could have easily pushed the franchise too far. Instead, they were able to skilfully create a film that can stand alone in its own right. Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them is not at all dependent upon the Harry Potter series, rather it complements it. Just when you think that every conceivable aspect of the wizarding world has been shown, a magi-zoologist and his suitcase generate more mysteries and unanswered questions that are sure to be explored in the next four films that are due to be made.
The visual effects are brilliant, rich and immensely entertaining with many breathtaking CGI fabrications over the New York skyline. The transition from Hogwarts to a wider world of mischievous creatures like the Niffler is effortless and leads to some of the most hilarious moments of the film. Just when you feel that you have seen every possible version of New York skyscraper-toppling mayhem in films, an enormous creature thunders through Central Park in search of love. The sight of Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne acting out a ‘mating dance’ for this gigantic creature is most definitely something that you won’t forget!
The film does have some structural problems as the many action sequences can seem slightly disjointed at times. Despite this, the beasts are brilliant, and towards the last few scenes the film truly soars, when Newt draws in on the real threats and discovers the mystery needing to be solved. With this introduction to a new wizarding saga done, Rowling and the entire Warner Brothers Team have opened doors to a new era, new country and exciting new characters – there is still every reason to anticipate an even more magical adventure next time.
Verdict: Fantastic Beasts is another brilliant success for JK Rowling and David Yates, transporting fans into a new and exciting wizarding world that leaves us eagerly waiting for the next instalment.
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Media courtesy of Odeon, The Guardian.