Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Just about enough fun to not mark it as a complete failure.

For a movie set in the world of Harry Potter and directed by David Yates who made the last 4 of those movies, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is surprisingly unengaging. It is also devoid of compelling lead characters, one of the biggest strengths of the Potterverse. The movie though does set out to entertain, and there is just about enough fun to be had to not mark it as a complete failure. Some of the actors too make the film more entertaining than it otherwise would have been.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a zoologist for magical creatures, aka Fantastic Beasts. He arrives in 1920s New York with a case full of said creatures, but manages to let them escape. With the assistance of the American witch and ex-Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), he attempts to catch them. Meanwhile, a powerful dark magic is terrorizing New Yorkers and threatens to reveal the hidden world of magic to the Nomaj (the Non-Magic people).

Five years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II, a new spin-off series starts that is set in the same magical world but takes place almost a century earlier and a continent away. An opening montage sets up the time-frame as well as the plight of the magic people before we are introduced to the main player of this movie: Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander. As more characters are introduced and this particular story sets in motion, one thing becomes more and more obvious – the richness of the Harry Potter movies is missing. Fantastic Beasts, based on an original script from J K Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books), is her first screenwriting job. This perhaps explains the many logical loopholes, as well as the dramatic drop in quality of story and characters when compared to her superlative books. Under the guise of fun, the movie forgoes character arcs for Newt and Tina, making them both uninteresting and therefore forgettable. Despite it, Redmayne manages to infuse idiosyncrasies in Newt that may resonate with fans.

The supporting characters fare better, especially Alison Sudol as Queenie, Tina’s attractive sister and Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj who stumbles into the plot. They provide a familiar charm and humour reminiscent of the movies that boasts millions of fans. Fascinating too are the characters played by Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller – both accomplished actors bring a seething gravitas to their characters and performances that hint at a rich back/future story. Fans of Colin Farrell though may be upset at how he is short-changed. Most surprisingly, the movie suffers from some of most average cinematography of tentpole films. David Yates had us spell-bound with the visuals in his Harry Potter movies, and even in The Legend of Tarzan from earlier this year. The lack of a visual treat combined with the issues of jarring editing and sub-standard CGI suggest a rushed production.

To its credit, Fantastic Beasts does not pander to sequel-building the way it has become a norm for studios. Even though 4 sequels have been announced, this movie does not lose steam to stop for unexplained character/event introductions. It does not entangle into the Harry Potter stories, hence can be watched without having prior knowledge of the series. Furthermore, despite all its issues the movie manages to achieve a level of fun and spectacle. Yates infuses the movie with enough energy and emotions that make it an entertaining if forgettable time at the cinema.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.