Along with many people who were approaching their teen years in the early 2000’s, I was very aware of Harry Potter and how popular it was getting. Just to clarify, I have never read any of the Harry Potter books, all my knowledge comes from, once again, The Dom’s series, Lost in Adaptation, as for the last few months he has been comparing all the Harry Potter books with the films. Now, Harry Potter was always going to be a major ‘cash cow’, the thing is though, the cash cow has been well and truly milked, the books are done, the story has been told, there is nowhere for it to go, hence why there was a ton of young adult novels that were trying to take its place, with film adaptations coming out one after the other. The Hunger Games kind of managed it but I don’t think it’s to the same extent that Harry Potter ever really did and never had that rich world mythology and characters that Harry Potter managed to achieve and the one that probably could have succeeded in that regard might have been the Percy Jackson films, you remember them, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and Percy Jackson Sea of Monsters. You forgot about them? Well, yes, I did for a while, but again, after I saw Lost in Adaptation episodes of them, you actually realise these were really interesting books and they could easily have been the next Harry Potter films, too bad they made the film’s generic rubbish that meant no one invested in it and they messed around with the source material so much that it was virtually impossible to keep the story going. So it’s no surprise that Warner Bros noticed that all these franchises were failing and the Hunger Games is well and truly over at this point and of course Star Wars is getting a ton of success with its proposed expanded Universe, they realised they still have the licence to Harry Potter and what better time to start a series of spin offs with several films that would connect to the main story. Rather similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Personally, I was never a huge fan of Harry Potter, I really liked it at first but I felt like I was losing interest to see the films around the time the 5th movie came out an it’s telling that I have only seen 3 of the 8 movies in the cinema’s and only 1 of those without a parent or family member. But I at least appreciate what the Harry Potter films did and I did get enjoyment out of them, I’m not saying they are bad films by no stretch of the imagination, in fact some of them are pretty dam good, in my older age I would say the film’s got better in some regards as time went on if you look at them as just films and don’t look at the source material. The problem was, though, where do you go? Because there were several changes made to the source material, it has also developed an issue, this is the first screenplay written by J K Rowling, who I am certain was brought in during the script writing process for the original films, but several changes have been made from the book to the film, which you may not be entirely aware of the continuity at this point, however, that feels quickly resolved, where this would be a prequel that takes place well before all the Harry Potter films and would be for the first time, set in America with a completely new cast. Fantastic Beasts not only sees the return of J K Rowling, but also sees the return of director David Yates who directed the most of the Harry Potter films in the latter half of the series and personally I have always thought he is a pretty good director, barring his rather clunky, Legend of Tarzan film that came out earlier this year. The big question is, does Fantastic Beasts live up to the legacy set by the Harry Potter films, or will this kill off the proposed series of spin off films?
The plot of Fantastic Beasts takes place in the 1920’s. A former Hogwarts student Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne) has taken a briefcase full of magical creatures to New York. It is all going well up until a muggle named Jacob Kowalski (played by Dan Fogler) accidently picks up his bag and unleashes a few of the creatures into New York. Newt needs help to get the beasts back and recruits Jacob and also teams up with Porpentina Goldstein (played by Katherine Waterston) who works for the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic (M.A.G.U.S.A), however this organisation wants nothing more than to make sure this is all kept under wraps because any sort of exposure could result in a war between the humans and the magic world. That’s really the basic plot of Fantastic Beast, it doesn’t really go beyond that at any point.
Don’t go into this film expecting it to be a big deal, this is not going to be another major chapter in the Harry Potter saga, in fact there’s very little connecting it to the overall Harry Potter mythos. There is a brief reference to Hogwarts, Dumbledore and the Le Strange family, that’s all you’re really going to get. It also separates stuff out from the other worlds very well having the film set in America rather than England, now the cynical side of me would say this is a lame attempt to sell the film to an American market, however I think J K Rowling is right to make this change in location because it means we get to explore a side of the Harry Potter Universe than hasn’t been touched on at this point, which is, it’s the wizarding world, not all the wizards are confined to Great Britain. I’m hoping that in some of the other planned spin offs we might get to see how the wizarding world works in other countries because the film does highlight a bit of a cultural difference between the two countries even within the wizarding community, for example, muggles are referred to as no-mag’s and wizards are forbidden to marry into non-wizarding families, I always wondered where Voldemort got that idea from!
It’s made a bigger deal than it really should be because I think the film has a much more tighter focus on building this new world. In fact, to a certain extent it doesn’t feel too much like it is a part of the Harry Potter universe since there is a lot more focus on the creatures than there is on the magic. There are a few spells thrown about here and there and a few familiars than fans will recognise, however, it’s a very good thing it’s connected to the Harry Potter universe because this has been its own separate thing and I think we would have called it a Harry Potter rip off.
I’m not going to lie, I thought this film brought a lot to the table that hadn’t been in the Harry Potter franchise up to this point, for example, Jacob being the first muggle character to really be heavily involved in the plot. It’s a really interesting idea to see how a muggle would react to discovering this world and how it works, plus, because he is so tied to Newt all the time it again serves as a really good way to get exposition out without it seeming forced. That being said, however, he does potentially have the tendency to slip in to being generic comic relief, luckily he never falls in to that category he is actually kind of useful to the plot. Newt also makes a really good main character, he is very likeable and endearing. Especially with him writing a book for the wizarding world so they understand magical creatures better. The trailers and posters made him out to be like a monster hunter, but in actuality he is much more of an animal conservationist, he more wants to understand and preserve the beasts than hunt them down and it’s really interesting to see how his mind works. It’s almost like looking at the wizarding world Jane Goodall. There are a few characters though that I don’t think work quite as well, mainly the Goldstein sisters, I don’t know, they just seem a bit too generic for my taste, I did like Seraphina played by Carmen Ejogo, but I felt Porpentina was a bit generic in places, I have seen this character in a lot of films and I don’t really think she brings anything new to the table, she is just kind of there! My other big problem is in the villain department. The villains in this film are really weak, in fact there is a plot twist that you can see coming part way down the line in regards to the villains, which I won’t dare spoil, but all I can say is don’t look on IMDB it probably gives it away. There is one villain who is introduced early on and is then discarded for the rest of the film and we then move over to Percival Graves who is played by Colin Farrell who is such a moustache twirling villain I’m surprised he gets away with so much without anyone suspecting anything at all it really is a massive suspention of disbelief and he is just not that interesting a villain. The Harry Potter villains may have been absolutely insane but they were more memorable for that reason. Don’t get me wrong, Colin Farrell does a fine enough job in the role, he does what he needs to but he is certainly nowhere near as interesting as Voldemort or the Death Eaters, mind you it’s very difficult to follow-on from the wizarding Nazis. There is one other plot twist which is thrown in there, which I admit is actually quite good and works for the most part and I actually liked the cult of orphans than want to stamp out the wizarding world before they invade the humans but they don’t feel like they hold much significance until later on in the film and it feels like a missed opportunity, honestly I think you could get rid of Graves and just have these guys be the villains and it would be much more interesting.
The star of the show, however, are the beasts themselves which is where the most imagination has been put in place. Incidentally I would also like to say that the cynical side of me does think that they were designed in order to sell toys again, however, knowing Rowling, I think she has put a lot of effort in to the concepts of these characters, though a couple of them are “so adorable and we can sell them at Christmas”, highlighted by the ending of the film which I won’t spoil, but put it this way, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of the products from this film are in some shops by the end of the year. The only other thing that doesn’t really work about the film is M.A.C.U.S.A. which are the American equivalent to the Ministry of Magic that are introduced in the film who are made up of really bland cameos that don’t add much to the film and in fact these guys are even worse than the Ministry of Magic and the Hogwarts staff, and those guys were freakin idiots, these guys never seem to pick the right thing to do, highlighted by a bone idle stupid move in the middle portion of the film.
I’m probably making it sound like I didn’t really enjoy the film’s plot, but the plot is actually quite good, it’s nice, simple, stable and with a bit of intrigue, virtually everything that was good about the early Harry Potter films and doesn’t have too much of the darker edge as the later ones did so I think it will appeal to a more mass audience than some of the later Harry Potter films did and overall I actually appreciated the more simplified plot. Is it anything amazing? Not really, but it does its job and it does its job pretty well and some scenes are fantastic, especially the scenes involving the capturing of the beasts.
As for the cast, they are pretty good overall. I actually think the cast as a whole is pretty good. I have already mentioned that I think Colin Farrell does a good job despite the fact that he is given poor material to work with. I think most of the female performances including Katherine Waterston, Fine Frenzy, Samantha Morton and Carmen Ejogo all deliver their parts pretty well but I always think that J K Rowling has the opposite effect of James Cameron, whereas James Cameron writes women better than he writes men, I think Rowling has a tendency to write men better than she does women. Feel free to challenge me on that point, and I know that Hermione is a good character in the books anyway and yes I know I said I hadn’t read the books, I have been getting my information from the Lost in Adaptation episodes! But I really got a sense of that in this film mainly because my favourite characters and performances were Ezra Miller who does a really amazing creepy performance and further cements to me that he is an actor who we should be looking out for especially now he has got the part of Flash in the DC movies, Dan Fogler, who is a really likeable character and especially Eddie Redmayne, who for me is probably alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, the best British actor working today. Eddie manages to deliver a brilliantly physical performance in this film which is especially outstanding considering he is having to often work with computer effects that are going to be added in later which he can’t see, and I know a lot of actors are doing that these days, but Eddie really makes it seem like he is actually physically interacting with these effects and it adds more credence to the effects overall, it also helps that he is playing a very likeable character so his likeable personality is allowed to shine through. There is one thing I can say about him though, and that is, he does seem to be getting rather typecast and I think he needs to make sure that he does keep his roles as expanded as some of his best performances like The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl. There’s not really much more to say about the cast, they all do pretty good jobs, though there are a few I having mentioned, including a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ Gemma Chan cameo who, members in the cinema I was in were saying “oh, it’s her from humans” and especially the ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ John Voight cameo, who was only in there for about 3 scenes. How the hell do you get John Voight and only use him 3 times!! Of course, I wanted way more Ron Perlman than I got, though he does deliver a very good motion capture performance.
Speaking of which, the effects are actually really quite good in this film. The spell effects are very familiar to anyone who has seen the Harry Potter films, particularly the Deathly Hallows films since a lot of the spells from that film seem to have been carried over to this one. The beast effects can look a bit fake at times, but as I mentioned, Redmayne’s performance adds a bit of credibility to them and the CG backgrounds are at least pretty to look at times, plus I really appreciated the period accuracy with 1920’s New York which is really good, I wouldn’t be surprised if this film gets a nomination at the Oscars in the costume design department since the costumes are all very good. The film’s score is also rather a surprise, and fits in with the setting really well, while we do a traditional music score with some renditions of John Williams original compositions, we also get a few Jazz songs to reflect the 1920’s New York setting.
It’s actually a brilliantly presented film and it also still fits in with the aesthetic of the Harry Potter movies just with a bit of an American facelift. There is one thing I will say, however, I don’t think there is as much of Rowling’s imagination this time round. There are still some very imaginative ideas there, but I felt like there was a little more effort to make the wizarding world seem completely different from the muggle world. This one seems like it’s trying to blend the 2 in a bit of a hybrid and that to me seems more like an episode of American Dragon than it does Harry Potter. To sum up then, unlike most of the critics, I don’t love Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I do really like it. It’s not a brilliant movie by any stretch of the imagination, it’s very passable and does its job, and it’s good to watch. I won’t be rushing out to see it again though and I’m pretty glad I didn’t go to see the film in 3D since I think there are very few moments where the 3D would have actually paid off. It’s a very nice, charming film that will entertain the family, the plot is pretty decent, despite the fact that it needed better villains, and it’s really propped up by some good effects and a fantastic performance from Eddie Redmayne. If you like the Harry Potter films you will get something out of this, though newcomers, stay away, you need to have seen the other Harry Potter films for it to make sense and it’s clearly made with those fans in mind. It’s a very good film and I am kind of glad that the sequel has already been confirmed, which I will go and see.
Mini review time. I have only got 1 this week because I only got chance to see 1 more film before I went on Holiday. It’s Asperger action film, The Accountant.
Well, that’s my thoughts on these films. If you have an opinion on them please feel free to comment, I try to reply to as many as possible though I can’t make any promises. I do enjoy a healthy debate though.
Thanks a lot for reading my review, I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and now I am off to King’s Cross to watch some idiot try to run at the pillar between platform 9 and 10.
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