Warner Brothers must be rubbing their hands together with glee. They have successfully launched a prequel series for their most lucrative franchise and whatsmore (whisper it) this could actually be better than Harry Potter.
That is because there is a freedom to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them that the Harry Potter series lacked. There felt like a “tick-box” of different moments and elements that Harry Potter movies had to feature but this is a series with no prior book to restrict it (apart from the “textbook” written by JK Rowling which gives the movie it’s name and main character).
This means that JK Rowling’s imagination can run wild and that it does. The author of the original Harry Potter books has actually written this screenplay and it shows. The “Fantastic Beasts” of the title demonstrate a creativity without restraint and will have adults and kids in equal amounts of awe, while some of the magic on offer is as much of a spectacle as always. A moment when you finally see where the Fantastic Beasts are kept is one of goosebump-inducing proportions and shows that there is a plenty of life in the Potter-Verse yet.
These films have never just been about the magic though. The characters are key to the wider franchise’s success and Rowling writes more people for audiences to root for. Eddie Redmayne is perfectly cast Newt Scamander and seems to relish in the delight of casting spells, catching creatures and battling the villains. His unexpected sidekick is the real saving grace of the movie though. Dan Fogler plays Muggle (or No-Maj for the American counterpart wizards) Kowalski and becomes the audience’s eyes as he experiences all the wonder for the first time. It is a great comical character and Fogler manages to steal all the scenes he is in, even when faced with large rhino-like beasts or huge dragons.
There are a host of other characters, so many that you could argue some feel under-developed. More time could be spent fleshing-out heroine Tina’s story. Aside from running after Newt, Katherine Waterston’s character doesn’t truly come into her own. The same could be said for primary villain Graves, played by Colin Farrell. As good as the actor is here, the motivations and reasons behind what he is doing don’t really come to fruition until the very end and you struggle to feel the magnitude of his threat.
Not that there isn’t something to fight against in this movie. As with the later Potter movies, Rowling manages to balance the light, funny magic with some much darker material. There will be moments which feel unsuitable for kids, dealing with child-abuse, torture and some pretty nasty murders. It makes for an interesting story, although one that feels like a sub-plot compared to Redmayne’s Newt catching his Fantastic Beasts.
That is the delight many will find from the movie. The use of the fantastic creatures that Newt carries with him is great and if the movie had no villain and just the wizard trying to hunt, catch and document his findings, this would still be as entertaining. In fact, it would rectify the two biggest issues with the film; a resolution to the finale which feels slightly too convenient and a huge sequel bait-teaser which clangs with how obvious it is. Luckily, this movie will make people excited for a second installment.
Overall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a rare beast in itself – a very good prequel. It shows there is plenty of life in the Harry Potter Universe and that Warner Brothers may have a wizard-boy beating franchise on their hands. Eddie Redmayne is great, as is his supporting cast but it is the magic, amazing imagination and the Fantastic Beasts which steal the show.
Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)