Film Review – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Disclaimer – I am not a Harry Potter aficionado, so read my review with caution. For a more detailed review read this excellent piece from Scott Mendelson at Forbes.
“People find me annoying” says Eddie Redmayne’s character Newt Scamander in J.K. Rowling’s latest entry in the “Potter-verse”, in what is clearly a very in-joke to Redmayne’s divisive performances in The Danish Girl and Jupiter Ascending. (For the record I actually enjoyed him in JA.)
As for the so-called “Wizarding World of Harry Potter Universe”, having never read a HP book, and only recently viewing for the first time any of the films, I have remained blissfully ignorant to this phenomenon for the last two decades.
Previously I had been unaware of The Simpsons for many years and these two cases of pop culture ignorance are the biggest infringements I can confess. Though there would doubtless be many more if I could access the forgotten dark recesses of my mind.
The reason I did finally watch a HP film earlier this year is because my daughter reached an age where they became appropriate as a stepping stone from Disney Princess films to more grown up fare, via The Labyrinth, and Edward Scissorhands.
I mention all of this as some background to help explain why I found Fantastic Beasts difficult to get my head around.
It is 1926 and a ship steams into 1926 New York. On board an awkward wavy-haired young man named Newt is carrying a brown suitcase. One of the latches opens by itself and he quickly shuts it with a knowing smile. There is magic afoot!
Approaching a customs officer, he slyly activates a sliding switch to make the case “muggle proof”.
When the uniformed official becomes suspicious and asks to see inside the brown case, all that is visible are run of the mill tourist items and Newt breathes a sigh of relief before heading into New York City…
Before long we discover why he as jittery as a nervous passenger on Border Security. Inside the case is a veritable treasure trove of fantastic creatures including a platypus like cutie called a Niffler.
Attracted to shiny things, and capable of stashing an immense volume of valuables in a marsupial like pouch, this Niffler manages to sneak out of the case and wreak havoc in a bank, providing the first of many memorable scenes as we get a feel for the kind of magic tricks on offer for the next couple of hours.
Sadly the magic became muddled for me in amongst a convoluted story that sees a Magical Congress of the USA (MACUSA) crackdown on unlicensed magicians forcing Newt’s activities underground, for seemingly no reason.
Potter maniacs can feel free to enlighten me here, as to the climate of fear around spells and wands in 1926 New York. (I just remembered that the film opens with a rapid montage of newspaper headlines that establish a story about some bloke called Gellert Grindelwald – apparently second only to Voldemort on the scale of evil wizards.)
Literally this is all Greek to me. I’m not even sure who Voldemort is….
So I felt very much in the dark about why Newt had traveled to NYC in the first place. Seemingly to find a home in the desert for one of his winged creatures, but as to why he needed to bring a large population of incredible beasts along with him as well as a giant eagle is still a mystery to me.
Add to that a low volume and plenty of dialogue in a mix of accents using unfamiliar vernacular and I felt like a right old grandpa struggling to comprehend the establishment of a brand new universe that will surely captivate audiences, new and old alike.
For me it had glimpses of magic, but almost impenetrable for a newcomer, so 3 Stars.
And interested to see how my daughter feels about this whole new world….
I feel it is a similar scenario for the countless people who have never seen a Star Wars film trying to understand one entry in amongst a huge volume of work…