Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Director: David Yates
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
By THOMAS STEVENSON

 

It all starts with a man and a case. The man, Newt Scamander, an eccentric Brit with dopey eyes and a mop of hair you could swab the decks with. The case, a battered old thing whose locks spring open and emit the strangest of noises. It’s 1926 and they’ve just come off a boat in New York City. Newt is wearing a thick coat and a grimy scarf to combat the winter chill. His demeanour becomes very shifty as a customs officer stops to look inside the mysterious case…

Way back when the Harry Potter films were being made, we had a bit of a conundrum. Yes, those movies were undeniably great, but we already knew what was going to happen from the books.

This time, the only book is the one Newt himself is writing about magical creatures and how to care for them. This time, we have a movie where literally anything could happen. There’s a real element of surprise and constant thrills throughout.

In her screenwriting debut, J. K. Rowling has been allowed to work her magic in a completely new setting and with a whole new cast of characters… and creatures! There’s some real star power behind it, with Newt being played by Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell appearing as an elite Auror called Percival Graves. You should check out this interview with Eddie on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert – it’s hilarious!

So, back to the movie. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sees Newt stumbling around NYC after a Niffler escapes from his case and starts causing chaos. For those who haven’t read the Harry Potter books, Nifflers are like wombats with an incredibly keen sense of smell; they sniff out and hoard shiny objects like coins.

In the process of extracting this one from a bank, Newt gets tangled up with ex-Auror Tina Goldstein and a Muggle (called a “non-maj” by the Americans) by the name of Jacob Kowalski. All Jacob wanted was to get a loan to open his dream bakery, but the beasts hidden in Newt’s trunk change his life in a heartbeat. By the way, I haven’t even got past the first 15 minutes of the film.

Much like Rowling’s original books, the plot is interesting in that it’s simple enough to understand, but fast-paced enough to keep you guessing. Personally, I felt a bit lost as it jumped from place to place, person to person, without much explanation.

As it progresses, the film smoothens out, but I can’t help feeling that somebody not familiar with Harry Potter would be completely bamboozled. Yes, shock horror, such people exist! The characters in this movie zap about and apparate all over the place, not even stopping to explain what they’re doing to the “non-maj” Jacob. It’s a little bit chaotic.

Not only is Newt an eccentric wizard zoologist, he actually has an entire ecosystem inside his case! It contains such amazing animals as rhino-like Erumpents, a nest of Occamies that can change their body size to fit the available space, and an invisible ape-like being called Dougal. Unfortunately, these are the creatures that escape along with the Niffler (again). There’s something bigger going on though… a dark force is tearing up the streets and terrorising wizards and non-magic folk alike.

You can enjoy a deep plot, loads of action and plenty of cool creatures to gawk at. It’s not exactly dry and gloomy either! There are plenty of moments to make you laugh out loud, something I haven’t done in a theatre since Draco Malfoy was transfigured into a ferret. In particular, Tina’s sister Queenie provides plenty of comic relief. She is a talented Legilimens (mind reader), but she finds Newt’s brain hard to understand because of his British accent. Instead she focuses her attention on Jacob and becomes enchanted.

I felt some aspects of the film’s ending were a bit rushed and wondered if I’d missed some key piece of foreshadowing. We also didn’t get to see much character development. Newt maintains the same awkward, eccentric aspect to the end. For once, that doesn’t bother me. In my view, it leaves us with enough scope for the four sequels that are currently planned. Our magical zoologist, with his case full of wonders, has all the time in the world to grow.

Bet you can’t wait to see what he gets up to next!

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