Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them poster.png
Potter meets Pokémon Go

Director: David Yates
Running Time: 133 Minutes
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Ron Perlman, Jon Voight

It was only a matter of time before it happened. After The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars showed how profitable cinematic prequels were, it was expected for the Harry Potter saga to follow suit. It's promising to have creator J.K Rowling handle script duties, as she's clearly thought long and hard about the many aspects of this world. In typical fashion, Rowling does much world building and set up, hinting at places for the future sequels to explore. It'd be a lie to say one isn't intrigued by the potential places for sequels to go in, but it feels as though they've been made at the expense of much plot here.

It's 1926, and British wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has arrived in New York, carrying a suitcase filled with magical creatures. After a twist of fate results in his briefcase falling into the hands of unsuspecting baker, Jacob (Dan Fogler), many of the creatures are unwittingly let loose upon the city. Joined by ex-Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), and her psychic sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), it's up to them to contain the situation, before it spells trouble for both the Wizarding and No-Maj communities. Meanwhile, Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) leads The New Salem Philanthropic Society, a group committed to the exposing and extermination of Witches and Wizards. Her eldest adopted son, Credence (Ezra Miller), is approached by Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), who appears to carry his own agenda.

Image result for fantastic beasts and where to find them youtubeTonally, the film is a mess. The light and fluffy adventures of Newt feels close in tone to Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, while a darker subplot involving child abuse and murder takes a tone more like both parts of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. As these scenes follow one another, it comes off as an uneven mixture, giving a similar effect to combining a family friendly picture with a David Fincher film. Rowling's original series had multiple stories for the tone to develop, growing darker as the characters progressed into a world growing much darker. What those eight films did is attempted over the course of one film, and the result is far from fluid.

As magizoologist Newt Scamander, Eddie Redmayne does well in the role. A shy, nervous wizard who rarely makes eye contact, feeling closer to the Fantastic Beasts he saves, as opposed to fellow wizards. He's a likeable enough character that's easy to root for, yet feels more like a plot device than the films lead character. If anything, Tina feels more like a lead character, complete with an intriguing backstory and her own character arc. It helps that Katherine Waterston does a terrific job in portraying her.

Through portraying the aspiring baker and muggle No-Maj, Jacob, Dan Fogler provides the films own beating heart. His romance with psychic Queenie (lovably portrayed by Alison Sudol) proves all kinds of adorable. It's unfortunate that Colin Farrell acts as a more forgettable character, instead acting more as a set-up for future instalments.

On the basis of the effects work, it's clear this is from the same director as The Legend Of Tarzan. Even if a few creatures are wonderfully designed (the gold thieving Niffler is a scene stealer), the overall effects work is glaringly noticeable, taking one out of the film. Much like The Hobbit trilogy, a few instances of practical effects wouldn't have gone amiss.

As the start of a new franchise, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a tonal mess, so interested in looking ahead that it neglects the current film, in many areas. Yet in spite of its flaws, things are off to a promising start, setting up much hope for the following franchise, while carrying a great deal of fun.