This review is spoiler free.
The first of five new movies within the Wizarding World has been eagerly anticipated for a long time now. But did it live up to our hopes and expectations?
First of all it’s safe to say that while they will try and sell you this movie on Harry Potter nostalgia and cute beasts, the film does push hard at its 12a rating. So if you have smaller children, be prepared for a fair amount of death and a lot of adult themes and dialogue.
One concern going in to this film, was how much were they going to name drop and show things we know from the Harry Potter movies. While the temptation is always there with prequels to give the audience winks and nods, Fantastic Beasts handled it in the right way.
While they named a few key elements from the Potter films, Fantastic Beasts really was its own beast (sorry, not sorry), taking much of its source material from how the wizarding community in America operates. This is significantly different to what we know and have been shown previously, this gives the film a fresh feel to it.
The beasts themselves were truly fanatical, very much assisted by high quality CGI. They helped to add something different to the movie. While we have seen magical creatures previously in the Harry Potter movies, having more focus on the creatures allowed this film to set itself apart from the others that have come before it. One thing is for certain, you will want a Niffler by the end of the film.
The visual style of the film was stunning. The colours and sets all helped to create a believable world. The CGI used for the environments, both magical and non-magical, were sublime. The amount of time spent on creating this world was evident. From the costumes to the props, everything felt and looked like the 1920s.
In terms of the cast, there are a few gems scattered throughout the film, with everyone else putting in a solid performance. There isn’t any actor within the film that you could pick out as putting in a bad performance. Eddie Redmayne has great chemistry with both Katherine Waterston and Dan Fogler. Redmayne himself is brilliantly awkward, whilst at times bitter, which played in nice contrast to his more charming moments. However the stand-out of the movie is Colin Farrell as Percival Graves. Whilst it is unclear whether we will see Farrell in a future film, it would be a shame if he was to make only one outing in the Wizarding World. He truly added such an interesting character to the franchise and played the part spectacularly.
So amazing beasts, a great cast and a beautiful visual style, a perfect movie right? Well, not entirely.
As good as the film is, the film does have two, rather large, issues that go against it. There is the fact the film’s overall tone seems to be sporadic at best and then there is the issue of the story itself.
Starting with the tone, Fantastic Beasts never settles on one particular tone. It seems to jump from dark to slapstick in such a way that is very noticeable and that at times pulls you away from the story. If you were to use the original Harry Potter movies as examples, Fantastic Beasts was a weird combination of The Philosophers Stone and The Deathly Hallows. At times downright silly, yet at other times as dark as a 12a movie could go. The lighter moments in the film needed to blend better with the films more sinister scenes, but this is directly a factor of the second issue of this film, the story.
All the publicity building up to film’s release has been centred on Newt Scamander tracking down a bunch of magical creatures. While Newt is the main protagonist of the film, his overall story seemed to be secondary to a whole host of sequel setup sub-plots and characters. While the story was connectable to Newt’s mission, you got the feeling that the main aim was to use Fantastic Beasts as a vehicle to lay a lot of the foundations for the next four films in this saga.
The film ended with so many questions left unanswered, and while Rowling will claim it is all part of the ‘bigger picture’, at times it just felt a little lazy.
It is these two issues that stops Fantastic Beasts from being a truly stand-out film within the Harry Potter cinematic universe. It was really good, rather than great. But the first film in this kind of franchise is always going to be surpassed by its sequels, and with the clear indication of where the story is heading, the next few films should be very fantastical indeed.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an enjoyable re-entry to the Wizarding World, packed full of heart, warmth and darkness for good measure. While the film struggles with its story and tone at times, the film has enough light to battle the dark. A solid addition to the Harry Potter universe.