Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Directed by: David Yates
Written by: J.K. Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo
Released: November 17, 2016
Grade: B-

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The Harry Potter franchise wrapped up in 2011 (after 8 successful films) but it seems the thirst for J.K. Rowling’s intricate fantasy world still exists.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is reported to be the first in a five-part series that will be produced over the coming decade.  Don’t expect to see your favourite characters.  It’s set roughly 70 years before the earlier films and has a very different look and feel.

While J.K. Rowling penned the novels, the previous movies were adapted for the screen by other writers.  Steve Kloves (Wonder Boys) was responsible for every film with the exception of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which was handled by Michael Goldenberg (Contact).  For this new franchise, Rowling will be taking on the responsibilities.  It is loosely based on a textbook she wrote to raise money for charity back in 2001.

The narrative begins in New York City in the year 1926.  A British wizard by the name of Newt Scamander (Redmayne) has travelled to America to locate a particular beast.  Magical folk are often scared of these mischievous creatures but Scamander wants to write a book that shows why they need to be protected as opposed to killed.

Many storylines are developed and it’s hard to keep up.  There’s a Magical Congress located in New York who are trying to maintain a National Statue of Secrecy that keeps the magical world hidden from ordinary humans.  There’s a cult-like group trying to infiltrate and expose those with magic powers.  There’s a media mogul trying to get his son elected President of the United States.  Oh, and there’s a factory worker who gets caught up in the mayhem.  He knows the magic isn’t a dream because he “ain’t got the brains to make this up.”

The problem with this film is that it feels more like a knowledge building history lesson rather than an exciting, free-flowing adventure.  The fact it’s the first in a multi-part series is also evident.  It takes a long time to warm up and there’s not a lot in the way of “pay off”.  You get the feeling that we’ll learn more about these characters and their relevance over the next few years.  The most obvious example is the storyline involving with media mogul (Voight) which is so small that it’s almost irrelevant.

The fractured screenplay will leave many scratching their heads.  What exactly is it that these characters are after?  Katherine Waterston plays a witch who has been demoted at work and doesn’t know where she fits.  She originally sees Scamander as a threat but changes her tune too quickly to fully comprehend.

You also get the sense this is intended for a more adult crowd.  This isn’t about young kids trying to find friends at wizardry school.  This is pushing heavier themes such as discrimination, injustice and oppression.  We learn of individuals who have supressed their magical powers and are scared of the truth.  It’s reminiscent of the X-Men series but as mentioned above, it’s another of the subplots that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is very cool from a visual perspective.  I can’t remember the names of any beasts but the special effects artists deserve praise for bringing them to life.  They serve as a nice contrast from the 1920s setting and its old fashioned clothes and activities.  Eddie Redmayne’s nerdy, nervous personality gets a little tiring but he still wins points for a strong performance.

With no novels to guide us this time around, we’ll have to wait until the next instalment in the franchise to see what happens next.