Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (2D / SPOILER-FREE)
Cert: 12A / 133 mins / Dir. David Yates / Trailer
Firstly, a disclaimer. This is a civilian review of a geeky movie. I'm a fan of the Harry Potter timeline in that I've seen all the films in the cinema*1, but it goes no further than that. It's not that I'm dismissive of the series at all, but all those shelves in your brain which are used for storing interconnecting trivia about the history of Hogwarts are pretty much full of Star Wars stuff in mine. The jug can only hold so much water. I only make the point because I can tell (as a fan of film in general) that pretty much every scene of Fantastic Beasts is stuffed with Easter-Eggs, in-jokes and foreshadowing for future installments, yet I can't quite make the connections. No matter, as this is a movie designed to work for mainstream audiences as well as the hardcore faithful, but I'm getting ahead of myself...
1926. As a conservationist of magical creatures, Newt Scamander arrives in New York with a suitcase already twitching and bulging at the seams. When one of his subjects manages to escape into the vaults of a bank, Newt finds himself enlisting the help of Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj (the American term for Muggle) baker to recover it. This interaction leads to the involvement of the magical sisters Porpentina and Queenie Goldstein, and uncovers a larger scurrilous plot at the Magical Congress of the USA (Ministry of Magic, basically).
Short version: I loved this. With the story and screenplay written directly by JK Rowling, the authenticity of the continuity never feels in question, and the previous hurdle of adapting novels for the screen is removed altogether. Yet rather than relying on the already-created universe for familiarity, setting the story 70 years earlier and on the other side of the world allows the canon to expand and adapt, rather than rehash. And using the incredibly-British™ Scamander as the audience's window into this new (old) world allows things to unfold naturally, as he experiences them. 1926 is also, it has to be said, a fairly dark period in American history in which to set a light-hearted fantasy movie. While the film doesn't dwell on this too much, it gives rise to more than a few socio-political digs in the script which, naturally, are relevant to both the film's internal setting, as well as the one the audience goes back home to.
And as stated above, every single scene in this movie is rich and bursting with detail (although from a cinematic point of view, it's perhaps worth noting that every exterior location feels like a soundstage, somehow). But the cramming doesn't stop there. Rowling's story spends the first act transitioning the audience over the Atlantic, so there are a lot of comparative references and cultural translations, but at the same time it's setting up pins for future installments (four loosely announced, so far) and remembering to make a solid story out of this film itself. It does, at at times, feel slightly too crammed.
On top of this, I'm not entirely convinced that Redmayne's Scamander is the right lead for the film. He's fantastic in the role itself (as per) under long-time Harry Potter director David Yates' auspices, but the character's bumbling and avoidance of eye-contact begins to hold things back a little. Typically, that's when you'd hand over to Tina and Queenie to pick up the protagonist-reins, but the film is hesitant to really let them take charge. As a result, I don't feel like I got to know any of the three characters as much as I wanted to. And it's coming to something when the most memorable and developed character in a film about wizards is the Muggle who wants to run a patisserie...
But, all in all, this is a fantastic way to begin the next volume in the cinematic series. Rowling knows her universe and she knows her audience; long may she be this central to both…
Well, the Harry Potters, to be fair.
If you like them big and loud, yes.
From the cast, no.
From the director, it's a strong punt.
I didn't hear one, but the climactic sequence is pretty much 45 minutes of white-noise, so there could well be one buried that I didn't catch and the insane volume of a cinema auditorium.
Level 1: This film stars Nick Donald and Jorge Leon Martinez, both of whom are basically extras here and who were basically extras in The Force Awakens, but it still counts so you shut up.
*1 Although as it turns out, I've only reviewed one of the Harry Potter movies here, as the rest were released before I started the review-side of the blog full time. Alas, my local didn't take part in the recent Saturday-morning-catchup series (one a week for eight weeks), otherwise I'd have been well up for that.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.