Fantastic Beasts is a 2016 fantasy film set in JK Rowling’s wizarding world, directed by David Yates and starring Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, a Magizoologist who writes the eponymous guide book profiling a number of different magical creatures.
You can read the actual book, which is one of Harry Potter’s textbooks in the first book and film. JK Rowling released the in-world guide for charity between The Goblet Of Fire (2000) and The Order Of The Phoenix (2003). The film follows the adventures of Newt Scamander, who is in the process of writing the book.
Upon arrival in 1926 New York, one of Newt’s creatures, who he keeps in a sanctuary inside his enchanted briefcase, escapes and causes havoc, causing him to cross paths with the other central characters – Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an American Magical government official; Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), her mind-reading sister and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a non-magical (No-Maj) WW1 veteran who wants to open a bakery.
Meanwhile, dark magic is terrorising New York’s streets and the threat of the dark wizard, Gellert Grindlewald, looms over the city. The film and its planned sequels explore the wizarding world in an era long before Harry Potter’s adventures.
One can come into this film with a series of expectations; will it be essentially another Harry Potter film? Is it just a cash grab?
The answer to both of those questions is a tentative ‘no.’ That JK Rowling is writing is a good sign; she doesn’t need the money, and she doesn’t need to write in that world any more, and indeed that she’s adapting the screenplay from the story in her head, rather than filmmakers adapting the story from her books makes it a far more concise film.
This was the first thing that impressed me about Fantastic Beasts; it could easily stand alone. There’s plenty left open to explore in sequels, but the central plot is resolved, and they wouldn’t need to make another film if they didn’t want to.
Another huge plus for the film is how the creators have gone to town on exploring the world in a depth not possible in the Potter films. A lot of time is devoted to simply expanding the universe and imagining scenarios and how this world can exist besides a 1920s New York. It was clearly made with delight and this makes for a very enjoyable watch.
JK Rowling’s strong suit is in developing characters, and this film doesn’t disappoint. Newt Scamander is very likeable as an oddball character, basing the film around him works because it’s easy to care about him. The other main characters are well developed too and I look forward to seeing their next adventures, if the four are reunited, in the sequels.
On the negative side, there is an overuse of CGI in this film in regards to the titular beasts, and while the actors had puppets or animatronics to work with; the beasts are still clearly CGI, which took me out of the movie a few times.
The plot also stalls a little at a few points; some scenarios or conflicts are repeated a little too often; the Niffler was a little overused for example, and the ending is a bit drawn out in regards to emotional farewells. This is a minor nitpick, however, in what is otherwise a strong movie.
Despite the abundance of CGI, the film looks great – the dark, yet quirky and whimsical nature that made the Harry Potter books so enjoyable is played just right here – the film remains tonally consistent, whilst being able to entertain its audience.
In summary – Fantastic Beasts is a strong movie that manages to set up Rowling’s expansion of the Potterverse well, whilst managing to be an engaging and thoroughly entertaining film in its own right.