Not very often do we take the time out to appreciate the more civilised side of cinema, but with one of J K Rowling’s biggest fans living with me it was more of an inevitability that I would be watching ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’. Turns out, its actually pretty good!
I wouldn’t call myself a ‘Potter fan’ – I promised my partner I would not call them Pot Heads – but there is definitely something about the world crafted in the novels that gives the franchise some definite scope for development beyond the initial 7 books. Cue ‘Fantastic Beasts’, originally released as nothing more than a codex of sorts Ms Rowling tries her hand at writing screenplay, the end result being a creature feature of somewhat epic proportions.
The story begins with the socially awkward Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he enters New York with a mysterious briefcase. Quickly establishing that he is smuggling magical creatures he is keen to keep as low a profile as he can. Sadly, for the Wizards of the USA things are not going to plan. Despite countless policies and magical safeguards designed to keep their wizarding world secret from the ‘No-Maj’, there is something terrorising the city. It’s not long before things escalate, and Newt’s curious magical creatures become the focus of the Wizard authorities the ‘Macusa’. Determined to keep them safe, clear his name, and save the day Newt, and a team of unlikely tag-alongs must uncover the mystery of what is causing the attacks. Meanwhile, in a very blatant attempt to set-up the planned trilogy, something far more sinister lies in wait…
All in all, whilst the story does not quite have the depth, or indeed the scale of the original ‘Harry Potter’ franchise, its direct and to the point which, after grinding the other 8 movies, I was quite grateful for. If the HP series was about the characters and their chronological development ‘Fantastic Beasts’ appeared to be more focussed simply on entertainment. The characters are good, with Dan Fogler, in particular, playing an absolute blinder as the innocent comic relief, the No-Maj Kowalski. The other actors in support do their job, but don’t be too surprised if you don’t get connected to them in the same way you did Harry, Ron and Hermione. The baddies are bad, the good guys very likeable but the real stars of the show have to be the titular beasts, and indeed they are fantastic.
Now cue a load of critics lining up to criticise the film for its extensive use of CGI and large scale action sequences, especially as the story is somewhat linear, but for me, it gave the people what they wanted to see. Huge, otherworldly creatures rendered in as much detail as modern technology would allow – in a word: breath-taking. Effortlessly we are introduced to all manner of Magical fauna from the cute to the terrifying, to the relatable to the complete nonsensical. If there was one thing I would say didn’t quite grab me about the Harry Potter world it was that it was a little too character-centric. This film certainly puts that right. Indeed, the slightly darker plot line I hinted at in the end of my synopsis is perhaps the only element which threatens to weaken what is from all other angles a masterpiece accomplishment.
The action sequences, which to be fair I was mainly in it for, certainly did not disappoint, and if anybody wants a slightly more ‘alternative’ comparison I would say the fantasy elements and the seamless way the magical creatures interact with the ‘real’ world I would offer up the much loved ‘Hellboy 2’ – there were several scenes whose cinematographic stylisms mirrored Del Toro’s masterpiece. Loud, frantic and on a scale only the films $180 Million budget could afford.
Overall, as a creature feature the whole family can enjoy, this has got to be one you pick-up on Blu-ray and DVD when it releases in March; specifically as you are undoubtedly going to watch (and no doubt re-watch) it every time a new instalment is released. It’s funny, visually stunning and a real easy watch. Plus, who doesn’t want a Niffler?