Director: David Yates
Runtime: 133 minutes
J.K. Rowling’s imagination has fuelled the fantasies of an entire generation. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 hit cinemas in 2011, viewers said goodbye to the enchanting wizarding world that sustained a glorious eight-film run. 2016 has been the biggest year for Rowling’s creation since that moment, with a theme park expansion, a stage play, and now the inception of a new film franchise. But going into this film, my excitement was marred with trepidation; was this going to be an original adventure, or just another money-grabbing extension of a profitable franchise?
Fantastic Beasts opens in 1926, as Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of magical rescued creatures. After accidentally swapping suitcases with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a no-maj (muggle in American speak), a few of Scamander’s creatures escape. With magical creatures causing havoc in the Big Apple, threatening magical exposure, he catches the attention of disgraced Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), and hijinks ensue. Through all of this, it is somewhat difficult to explain what the film is trying to be. In parts, it’s a Pokemon-esque ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ adventure, and in others, it’s a discussion of the constraints of a bureaucratic magical society. We see protests, an abusive household, death sentences, and… an adorable platypus-like creature who collects shiny things. This confused tone does present some problems for the pacing of the film, but I cannot deny—I had fun.
This film would be a lot easier to hate if it were merely an unwarranted sequel, created by studio execs looking for the next big tentpole franchise (especially since Warner Bros. is having a lot of difficulty kickstarting other franchise properties). Yet despite its faults, it’s hard to call Fantastic Beasts generic and/or unimaginative. Great risks were taken with this film: a Harry Potter film not following the titular character? Set in a different time period? Set in an entirely different part of the world? Madness! But it is these risks that save the film from being a Phantom Menace-like disaster. And while pacing may not be Rowling’s strong suit, she shines once again in her use of character. Newt Scamander is a wide-eyed eccentric, played with such heart by Redmayne that you cannot help but find him incredibly endearing. The supporting cast is also a treasure trove of likeability, with the no-maj Kowalski being a true highlight. Serving as both comic relief and a grounding force in this wild ride, his reactions to the various magical stimuli seem completely genuine—an impressive feat in a CGI-fest such as this.
Does this film have problems? It has quite a few. Does it reach the extremely high standards of the first Harry Potter film? I would say no, it does not. But it is extremely likeable, and there was not one second in the entire two-hour run that I was bored. Sometimes you just go to the cinema because you want to be entertained, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them delivers in that respect. Pleasing, endearing, and good-natured, you may not be dazzled by Newt Scamander’s adventures, but you will leave the theatre with a smile.