Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review – An intriguing opener to J. K. Rowling’s new beastie universe

There is a lot to enjoy here. So why after two viewings am I not fully convinced?

Fantastic Beasts

★★★☆☆ (GOOD)

The first screening of Fantastic Beasts was ruined by mistakingly booking for a 3D showing. The light loss from wearing the darkened 3D glasses is heightened due to many of its scenes being played out in fairly dark settings.

Ironically, for a technology that is supposed to bring us right into the action, a number of times I felt so distanced from this movie that I gave up trying to experience the film objectively.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) attempts to control his Niffler
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) attempts to control his Niffler

So, screening take two. This time in stunning 2D!

It’s been over five years since the final (slightly drawn out) instalment in the cinematic adventures of Harry Potter. Fantastic Beasts takes us back into J. K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. This time we are some fifty years prior to Harry’s birth, a New York of 1926 where we are introduced to travelling British Wizard Newt Scamander.

Rowling’s own screenplay has a lot of fun with Newt’s Englishman abroad as he negotiates his way around this new transatlantic world; he learns that non-magic people are known as ‘No-Maj’ (as opposed to the English ‘Muggles’), a wand permit is required when in the United States and perhaps a nod to marriage inequality concerns in modern day America, Newt is bemused to find that Magicians and Witches cannot marry non-magical people.

Tina (Katherine Waterston), Newt (Eddie Redmayne), Chastity (Jenn Murray) and Kowalski (Dan Fogler) prepare for the launch of a new movie franchise
Tina (Katherine Waterston), Newt (Eddie Redmayne), Chastity (Jenn Murray) and Kowalski (Dan Fogler) prepare for the launch of a new movie franchise

It is a world that feels rooted firmly in the past but with many resonances of the now. There are some interesting parallels to modern America and I am sure that Rowling will have fun scripting future instalments as she continues to be influenced by current political events.

Eddie Redmayne’s mannered performance as Newt Scamander often reminded me of Charlie Chaplin. Feet pointing outwards, a pronounced gait and a subtle stylised physicality gave his portrayal an interesting dimension that I found slightly odd but nevertheless intriguing. What backstory awaits discovery in future instalments to explain these characteristics?

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) channels Charlie Chaplin
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) channels Charlie Chaplin

Stuart Craig and James Hambidge’s Production Design is gorgeous. There is a real authenticity to the historic New York setting which equally accommodates the fantastical elements of the story. Newt’s travelling possessions contain a fantastical world of their own which is realised with a rich and theatrical landscape that I adored.

The fantastic beasts of the title are often hilarious. The adorable and naughty half mole, half duck-billed platypus Niffler a particular favourite. And Newt’s mating dance with a strange and beguiling hippopotamus creature is something I never expected to see Eddie Redmayne perform.

Overall it’s a fun few hours of entertainment with some interesting subtextual layers. But I cannot help feeling that this is more of a setup for future instalments which leaves this film feeling slightly lacking.

And whatever you do, don’t see it in 3D.

  • Directed by David Yates.
  • Written by J.K. Rowling.
  • Featuring: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Samantha MortonDan Fogler, Carmen EjogoEzra MillerFaith Wood-Blagrove and Jenn Murray.

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