IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 133 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1926, wizard Newt Scamander briefly stops over in New York City en route to Arizona and encounters Mary Lou Barebone, a No-Maj [non-magical human] and the head of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, which claims that witches and wizards are real and dangerous. Through a series of events, some magical creatures escape the confines of Newt’s suitcase and Newt has to go and find them, aided by Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, a recently demoted witch employed by the Magical Congress of the United States of America, and No-maj cannery worker Jacob Kowalski. Meanwhile a series of mysterious destructive incidents have been occurring all over the city and Auror Percival Graevs of the Congress believes it to be the work of an Obscurus, a dark, destructive force inadvertently manifested by young magical children forced to conceal their powers….
While it certainly didn’t harm the box office takings, perhaps the worst thing the producers of the Harry Potter films did creatively was, after the series seemed to artistically peak with the third and fourth films, to get David Yates, a filmmaker who prefers to have crowds of people standing around doing nothing in his movies rather than having them behave naturally as a crowd, to direct the rest of them. Though the source material may not have been great, he all but destroyed the films with his drab look, dull handling and total lack of feeling for fantasy. It seems that his Tarzan movie was partly ruined by the studio, but my heart sank when, out of all the directors they’ve had making these films, they chose the worst one to make the first episode in a spin-off franchise. In fact, Yates seems to have improved a little, even though the mostly gritty look this picture has is rather at odds with the overall whimsy of the material. Despite a slightly out-of-place child abuse subplot, it’s generally a lighter, not to mention faster, affair than the Harry Potters, films which to this non-reader of the books seemed to miss out certain important bits and pieces while also wasting much time on tedium. There are a couple of surprises in the story [though the main villain is obvious within seconds], but some of it doesn’t make sense [i.e. a woman who hates witches adopting them], and, while it’s nice to see a larger amount of wizardry action, it all winds up in the manner of your typical Marvel movie – after which the thing just never seems to finish and decides to give us four or five codas.
Still, the fantasy 1920’s New York is nicely done with wonderful details big and small everywhere you look, and the creatures are enjoyably odd without failing to register as living breathing animals. The performances are mostly pitched right, though Eddie Redmayne seem a little off, rather stranger than Newt needs to be least in terms of the way the character is written for the screen. It’s actually Dan Fogler’s character, a genial cannery worker and aspiring baker who is accidentally exposed to the New York City magical community, who’s a more likeable and convincing character, and his part of the story has a certain sweetness, though some kids probably won’t be too interested in the romance aspects in what is, despite the odd reference to some very familiar names, really quite different to a Harry Potter film with its mainly adult characters and more ‘real world’ setting. Overall Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is mostly your typical generic blockbuster, but does contain a surprising amount of charm [something rather lacking in films of this ilk at the moment] and plenty of scope for expansion in sequels – but please get another director. There are some who could work wonders with this material – as long as J.K. Rowling allows them to.