REVIEWED : Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016, David Yates)

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The wizarding world of JK Rowling has always been a perfect subject for cinematic purposes. With immense success garnered on the adaptations of her most famous books, the idea for a prequel set 80 years prior to the boy wizard must have been the easiest decision for the studio heads at Warner to pass. Bringing the highly imaginative author on board as the films screenwriter – her first – not only gives canon to whats explored but allows for a totally immersive and highly enjoyable tale of magic, treachery and realised character arcs. In all that it does well, Rowling’s writing is by far the film biggest achievement – bringing a new level of grandeur to the already well establish Potter universe.

Rowling has already established herself as one of the most enjoyable authors writing today with “Fantastic Beasts” being no exception. With a feeling throughout that is reminiscent of the Potter universe, this new production feels similar but also ramped up to a much larger scale. This allows the film to carry a consistency to what has come before, but also the freedom to explore new plot ideas and different lead characters – who are all fully realised. Where the confines of a school setting subdued the previous films into fitting a particular formula, the new era and a new hero (in Eddie Redmayne’s Newt) allows “Fantastic Beasts” to feel epic throughout, with the American setting giving an idea of international wizardry. With three separate plot threads that at places seems to be edited harshly together, the film carries a feeling of a mystery tale within an old school adventure romp around New York.

With an incredible narrative idea, brilliantly written for the screen and fully rendered characters, the principle cast of “Fantastic Beasts” perform their particular roles amazingly well – giving well rounded examples of their individual character arcs and their place within the larger cinematic universe. With an Oscar winner as its lead, “Fantastic Beasts” was already onto a strong start with regard its cast, yet Eddie Redmayne not only carries the film – but also delivers one of the most realised performances of his career. As Newt Scamander, a Magi-zoologist, the British thespian brings a heightened level of humanism into a very magical role. Suave, enjoyable and caring, his character interacts with the cinematic world in a endearing and heartfelt manner that really carries the traits of the films important element through his onscreen performance.

Supporting him well, Dan Fogley operates as the audiences eyes, exploring and experiencing the films more magical components as the new elements are introduced. Comic relief, but never to the point of rendering that his role feels slapstick, his portrayal of Jacob is different to any character to have featured before. Excitable and overjoyed with what he is witnessing, his No-maj character fully explores the same emotions that audience members are expected to hold, giving the film a more normal foundation from which to feel the larger than life moments. Katherine Waterston – as Tina – is the more serious component on the four main cast. Her career driving witch controls the mayhem onscreen, with her romantic stance towards Newt hinting at where the series is heading. Her sister, Goldie is under used – in comparison to the others – yet still carries a great deal of emotional clarity with regard the development of her character. A take on the 1920s glamour girl, her portrayal allows for a look into the history component of the films plot.

As the shadier characters, Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell (as Credance and Graves respectively) really deliver dark portrayals of troubled characters unlike any to have been showcased previously.  Sans Voldermort, these two characters are the conundrum from which the plot line leads, but both do not declare their ideological standpoint into well within the films duration. With such high calibre actors serving as the films foil, the ensemble of this production is both complimentary to the roles but also to the larger story explored in Rowling’s writing.

A film titled “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” should rightly consist of a plethora of magical creations. With regard to this, the filmmaking team has established its core component well. Although eclipsed in places to the darker themes interplayed throughout, when the beasts appear the film benefits from their creative design and implementation narratively within the film. With the Niffler stealing most every scene he appears, and larger scale delights – such as Frank the Thunderbird – these beasts enhance the films magical appeal. With director David Yates returning to the universe after his original series run, Rowling’s world is crafted to a manner which is fully realised onscreen – with the director having become a perfect tool in delivering high scale conceptions to a quality standard.

What is more surprising with regard this production, is how much like the original series the film stays. World building in much the same way as the first two Potter films, “Fantastic Beasts” is instantly engrossing for audience members and attempts to deliver a larger scale universe than what is initially hinted at. With plot threads that hint at what is occurring around the main narrative focus, the world feels large – but never to the point of becoming overwhelming or convoluted. The scene that best showcases this world building brilliance, is when Newt and Jacob enter the enchanted suitcase and we are first introduced to the new magic in all its glory. Very much like the Diagon Alley moment in “Philosopher’s Stone”, this sequence gives audiences the first true magical moment within the film – heightened by the excitement visibly clear within Jacobs smile.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a brilliant re-entry into the enjoyable wizarding world. Where Potter kept its audience confined to the magic of Hogwarts, the new era and new heroes gives freedom to the film in becoming more creative than ever before. With four enjoyable characters – each with their own personality – the wizarding world feels very much alive throughout. With content building worlds onto what we already know, the future of this series looks both amazing and magical.

Plot –  5

Acting – 4

Direction – 5

Special Effects – 5

Retrospect – 4

Overall – 5

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