It’s a bit late to tell you to see this on a big screen, but don’t let that stop you with the DVD, Blu-Ray or subscription; the latest from the J.K. Rowling Potter-verse is beautiful, thrilling, charming and delightfully eccentric; a knowingly commercial New York outing soaked in magical Britishness. And yes, the beasts are fantastic. So is Eddie Redmayne.
An aside from Potter, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, authored by the brilliantly named Newt Scamander (Redmayne), launches into a new Potter-verse trilogy. It’s graduate-level Potter for the growing fan generation that’s also garnering new young fans with further wizarding adventures.
I can take or leave Redmayne, brilliant in Theory of Everything, less so in My Week with Marilyn, not so in Jupiter Ascending; here he is the disgraced English wizard and magical conservationist Scamander, a perfect combination of Dr Who and Rain Man, a shy, diffident, single-minded hero; as a fish-out-of-water, cue the song An Alien in New York, remix it with the beautifully realised jazz-era setting of twenties New York and the usual Potter-esque adventure fighting the dark arts and we have an instant classic Potter prequel.
With long coat, scarf, sonci screwdriver, sorry, wand, and a suitcase that’s bigger on the inside, Scamander no sooner arrives than he has escaped beasts to recapture, a dark wizard to expose and the sinister Hoover-esque US ministry of magic (MANCUSA) to overcome. This is not a happy United States, with fear bigotry and prejudice to overcome – sound familiar?
Newt’s quickly assembled surrogate family backs him up through numerous chases and narrow escapes. Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice) is the digraced MANCUSA agent Porpentina Goldstein, trouser-wearing, independent modern woman with a badge and a wand. Dan Fogler (Kung Fu Panda, Europa Report) is the struggling war veteran and aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski, playing the lovable, schlubby everyman, a ‘no-mag’ or muggle as we’d call them. So far, a grown-up triumvirate of Potter, Hermione and Ron…? Add in a luminescent Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein, somewhere between Cinderella and Marilyn Monroe, and the gang is complete.
On opposite sides of the impending wizards and no-mag war, the usually underwhelming Colin Farrel (Total Recall) serves well as conspiratorial, J. Edgar bureaucrat Graves; Samantha Morton (Minority Report) is a fundamentalist, McCarthy-ite, bigot witch-hunter. Caught in the middle is Ezra Miller’s Credence (The Perks Of Being A Wallflower), a truly strange boy with the worst haircut since Xavier Bardem’s No Country barnet. Oh, and yes, Johnny Depp briefly cameos as emerging uber-villain Grindelwald (a sly nod to Beowolf, I’d say). The supporting cast do well to add depth to broad-brush archetypes.
As for the Beasts; they are, indeed, fantastic. There’s genuinely some new and surprising creatures, lovingly realised and just as eccentric as the human cast, from tiny to enormous, through lumbering, chirpy, mischievous and magnificently winged. The set-piece of Newt’s game-reserve-in-a-suitcase is an extraordinary magical mystery tour.
Potter director and all-round gentleman David Yates fully realises J.K. Rowling’s own script and holds together what could have been a sprawling mess; Fantastic Beasts may lurch about kinetically, trying to tell too many stories at once, but it’s competing with the new TV golden-age of multi-threaded shows and packs in half-a-season’s worth of material into 132 minutes of running time. There’s so much packed into every frame, you can guarantee never to be bored. The production design alone is worth the price of admission, with the New York ministry being both Terry Gilliam’s Brazil bonkers downstairs, and also majestic in its sky-scraper atrium. This is why you need so see it on the biggest screen you can find, just to appreciate the artistry.
Which brings us to the glorious finale, which on the one-hand is CGI taken to excess and on the other is the large-scale grand-standing maelstrom of destruction where Batman vs. Superman failed to convince. The supernatural entity defies description, let’s just say the ending of Transcendence was just a starter course to the entrée here.
The real ending, however, is much more personal and touching than all the CGI ladled on for the previous two hours, and is the real emotional pay-off to everyone’s individual ‘journey,’ so stick around.
Yes, it may be over-long, it may be a superlative genre-ghetto piece, you may not like the extension of the wizarding world, it may be, after all, just a grown-up Potter. There are fantastic beasts. Go find them. RC
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Fantasy
Director: David Yates
Writer: J.K. Rowling
Running time: 132 minutes
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Johnny Depp