I feel very lucky to have grown up with Harry Potter. I was three when the first book came out and seven when I saw the first film at my local cinema. I have memories of first discovering the books (coming to them with Azkaban) and my dad reading them to me then eagerly awaiting every single film.
By the time the franchise had wrapped itself up with Deathly Hallows Part 2 in 2011 I had finished school and was approaching adulthood. It’s fair to say that I don’t remember not having Potter in my life.
When they announced Fantastic Beasts would be the inevitable continuation of the Potter franchise I was excited. Some were cynical, of course, yet this wasn’t a cash grab, spinning-off into a Marauders prequel. Instead, it was going to New York, focusing on new characters and a new time period.
The story was original, interesting and filling in some much-wanted backstory in the Potter universe.
It made it all the more disappointing then that major casting decisions tainted a predominantly wholesome universe. The people who grew up with Harry Potter were now older and more open to the changing world than they were back then and the promise of an extension of their favourite universe promoting stronger messages of diversity, where so many big franchises fail, was an enticing prospect.
Yet, ‘Fantastic Beasts’ holds back these bigger problems for another day. It’s great. A romp. It recaptures some of the magic we grew to love with the ten year Potter series and injects some new things into it.
Predominantly white cast aside, Its flaws are there, big and wide and full of uneasiness, yet they’re not entirely un-rectifiable. Despite beginning with the familiar Potter theme over the WB logo. a problem I had with the trailers, it quickly shifts into its own neat groove.
Like Philosophers Stone ‘and Where to Find Them’ has the heavy lifting to do, taking plenty of time to introduce, re-introduce and establish it’s dark new world. But if you didn’t mind it back in 2001 then you won’t care here.
‘Fantastic Beasts’ has great characters and intriguing world building with nice touches of wry British humour and some wonderful imagination. It’s most definitely part of the same universe and its flaws don’t particularly come into play whilst you’re watching it.
Eddie Redmayne is very Matt Smith as The Doctor, all long-limbed and not looking people in the eye. His beasts are the exception and they’re visually great. Sometimes you feel like they’re a bit too silly for the universe that made goblins and dragons as part of the ancient, magical world as the castles. Yet, they really just provide a push to get the story going.
The true drama erupts from a grotty orphanage where Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) run a magic hating regime and Ezra Millers Credence Barebone is at the brunt end of her anger. The film can become really dark and the introduction of an ancient beast called The Obscurus really resonates with the film’s themes of abuse.
The oppressive society portrayed here is a horror show that depressingly resembles our real world and it’s also where the film finds its feet. Miller is fantastic as the repressed boy trying to do right and he finds a place between madness and sadness that really stays with you.
There are moments here that are truly dark, one, in particular, involving the son of media mogul Shaw (Jon Voight) is genuinely shocking. JK Rowling capitalises on the increased darkness, with the threat of Grindelwald bubbling in the background, she does a lot of setting up for the future and it mostly works.
The rest of the film, involving Newt, Kowalski (Dan Folger), Tina (Katherine Waterstone) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) hunting down the beasts and getting caught up with the villainous Graves (Colin Farrell) is suitably fun.
Each character is well defined. Queenie is a little bit of a cliche but has a heart and despite potentially being a comic relief character, Folger finds real depth to Kowalski. Waterstone is great as a could be a love interest for Newt but holds her own and if the franchise were to take the focus off of Newt, she would be the most obvious choice for leading duties.
Behind the scenes, David Yates directs with a straightforward, safe pair of hands. It’s for the same reason as for why he was kept on for the last four Potter films, he works and his sensibilities won’t clash horribly with anything else.
The film looks great, which is more to do with the chic 20’s aesthetic than to do with the cinematography but it does look pretty. Also, the music from James Newton Howard is suitably evocative, not John Williams great but it gets the job done.
Structurally Fantastic Beasts kind of bounces along with no clear definition of peril and characters sit and chat when they should be up and doing stuff. It’s also a bit long and the ending stretches on for what seems like forever, with more goodbyes than Return of the King.
Troublingly, the biggest problem of them all, the casting of a well-known actor, has would become a five-film problem. It’s not as simple as just brushing past recent events. There’s the argument for art and artist but to put said actor back into the limelight so quickly, and in a young adult orientated franchise no less, was a swift mistake.
Of Johnny Depp, I’m a fan of his work and I don’t think he’s some irredeemable monster but I also think he should be seeking help, not another role. His inclusion in this film is minimal enough to brush past, though I thought he managed to overact in 30 bloody seconds, yet the future is going to be a little harder to get around.
Of the film as a whole, I really enjoyed it. Partly for a sense of nostalgia, partly because of its interesting world building and sense of romping fun and casually breathtaking wonder.
Come the end, some of what made it great may not be around for the next instalments, so the franchise may need to re-establish something new, but ‘and Where to Find Them’ is fun enough and meaningful to make this a good time at the cinema.
.The Obscurus is a great idea and the ‘revelation’ that Credence is the one repressed enough to become it is a nice one. I felt genuinely sorry for him and I think, had it not been for this particular story, the film would’ve lost something
.Tbh I didn’t see the Graves/Grindelwald reveal coming despite noticing that they had similar hair but again, it will be a shame not to see Farrell return.
.I can’t see how the films will go ahead nor can I see how Newt will become a part of the continuing Grindelwald storyline. Scamander very much just became a part of this adventure by chance and the ending sort of made it feel like we were saying goodbye to the character. However, I’m definitely excited to see what happens next.