*Originally written December 8th, 2016*
I had my reservations going into this Harry Potter prequel series (Which is the first of a planned FIVE). I felt it might be a CGI heavy and soulless cash-in that would remind me of the enjoyable, but hollow Hobbit films. Luckily, this wasn't not the case, and while Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is far from perfect, it's an enjoyable ride and it feels great to be back in the Harry Potter universe.
It follows a new protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he arrives in 1920's New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures, which break loose and he has to find them with the help of Tina (Katherine Waterson), a witch who works for the 'Magical Congress of the United Stares of America, and a muggle Jacob (Dan Fogler) who gets caught in the middle of all this. At the same time a new evil is rising in the form of Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).
What I am happy to say about Fantastic Beasts is that it is a lot of fun, if a little long, I'd say a good 20 minutes could have been trimmed for a more smooth run-time. Aside from that, this was one of the more enjoyable blockbusters I've seen this year. It has its moments of surprising darkness, but it is pretty lighthearted for the most part. It balances its tones fairly well.
Things are messiest in the story department. Fantastic Beasts is at its best when we're spending time with the creatures, which have a variety of cool and extremely cute designs. The CGI might have been a bit hit and miss, but the creativity is there. When we go to the parts with Colin Farrell, things get a bit muddy. Things aren't explained very well and the stories don't really connect until the final act, and I'm not entirely sure what was going on.
The casting at least is great for the most part. I'm not entirely sold on Eddie Redmayne's Newt, who in all honesty, is a non-character. We don't learn a thing about him, aside from the fact he's writing a book about the animals and is really awkward. His performance felt very similar to The Theory of Everything in the scenes before Stephen Hawking's disease got worst.
Redmayne is outshined by the supporting cast. Especially Dan Fogler as the muggle, who is the vessel for the audience. He is the heart and soul of the film. His character arc also had the biggest emotional impact. By the end of it, I really did love his character. I'm not entirely sure if we'll see him again in the series, but god, I hope so. Katherine Waterson as Tina was decent as was her Alison Sudol as her sister Queenie.
It's hard to say about Colin Farrell as the villain, because in all honesty, he isn't given a lot to work with. He just looks broody and miserable all the time. It doesn't really matter though because he won't be in any more of the films as he's replaced by Johnny Depp. Who manages to be the worst part of the film with only 10 seconds of screen time. It's easy to hate on Johnny Depp these days, but I burst out laughing when his character made it on screen. The design was ridiculous and only further shows he hasn't moved on from these laughable, zany and over the top characters that have become a parody of themselves.
David Yates is directing all 5 entries in this series, which I think I'm okay with (He's directed every Harry Potter from Order of the Phoenix onwards). I like his visual style and the look of 1920's New York is recreated extremely well. I just wish the film was a little lighter, I don't mean tonally, I mean literally. This was such a darkly lit film and I'm not entirely sure why.
I also appreciated the fan service, which didn't feel too obnoxious. There are a few name drops and mentions of Hogwarts, but it never feels like it was living in the shadow of Harry Potter and felt like it's own thing, which is a good thing. That said, this film really feel like set-up for a bigger picture a lot of the time, which is a problem I've had with a few of the Marvel films.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them isn't entirely succesful, but it's a lot of fun and a decent start to this new set of films set in the Harry Potter universe. Either way, it's just nice to revisit this world.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is out now on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD in the UK
Watch the trailer below:
Twitter: @FigmentReviews, @DanBremner96 and @ArronRoke91
Instagram: @DanBremner96 and @ArronRoke
YouTube: Figment Reviews
Letterboxd: Dan and Arron