Journey back to the JK Rowling's Wizarding World for a prequel spinoff that hopes to charm its way into our hearts.
With a plethora of magical beasts now running rampant across New York, Newt must join forces with Tina (Katherine Waterston) a disgraced Auror, and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) to catch them and uphold the secrecy of the magical community. Not only that but dark shadowy forces are working in the background to aid the villainous campaign of the nefarious Gellert Grindelwald.
Penned by JK Rowling and directed by long-serving Potter director David Yates (Order of the Phoenix through Deathly Hallows Part 2), Fantastic Beasts seemingly has all the ingredients it needs to succeed in serving up another slice of magical escapism for fans like myself. Like many millennials, Harry Potter and its universe have come to define our childhoods - surely Fantastic Beasts will be an enjoyable reprisal of this vivid world?
And yet, I didn't love this film. Believe me, I take no joy in writing this review - I wish I could sit here and profess my love for Fantastic Beasts. Don't get me wrong, I certainly didn't hate it; but by the same measure, I can't say I particularly liked it either.
First off, let's talk about the cast. Eddie Redmayne is an alright Newt who offers charm and adorable shyness in the lead role. He sort of mumbles his way through most scenes and I don't quite grasp how his character actually fits into the broader story that Rowling is trying to tell (his involvement seems purely circumstantial most of the time) but otherwise he does okay. Katherine Waterston is also pretty good as Tina. Again, there are pieces of connective tissue that tie Tina into the bigger picture but they felt a little tacked on or too convenient to make total sense.
The winning duo are Fogler and Sudol as Jacob and Queenie; as a down-on-his-luck No-Maj, Jacob serves as the audience character who stares at the wizarding world around him with wide eyed wonderment. He has a bumbling charm about him that makes him instantly likeable, a trait that grows even more intense when he meets and becomes besotted with Queenie. The two share an infectious chemistry that dishes out most of the laughs; Jacob is like a puppy who wags his tail every time Queenie walks into the room.
Colin Farrell's character Graves is a little problematic; first of all, you've probably guessed that he's the villain because c'mon, his name is Graves and he's played by Colin Farrell. Of course he's evil. Second of all, he isn't really all that compelling. He shares a lot of scenes with Ezra Miller's complex side character Credence where a lot of foreshadowing and exposition is thrown around and it feels too disconnected to Newt frolicking with his weird and wonderful beasties. They somehow collide towards the end but none of it feels seamless or tidy.
I think we're starting to see a pattern here; Fantastic Beasts has a lot of great ideas and is bursting with interesting characters but Rowling struggles to join them together in a screenplay that is jumbled and oddly paced. The first act is really great and bursting with funny moments between Newt, Tina and Jacob - the interplay between this trio and later Queenie is genuinely brilliant stuff. The second continues to chug along and begins to hint at how Newt figures into the other stories before a third act flips the lid and just throws an ugly CGI monster at the screen.
It certainly doesn't help that the titular beasts looked anything but fantastic. Some of the CGI in this film really misses the mark; the giant golden eagle glimpsed in the trailer is covered in weird shiny textures and is nowhere near as impressive as something like The Jungle Book or the rebooted Planet of the Apes series. It's not all terrible (a lot of Niffler plushies are going to get sold this Christmas) but calling it impressive would be a stretch.
Maybe I'll like it more with a repeat viewing but my first impressions aren't so fantastic; I wasn't enamored with Redmanye's lead performance, the VFX often looked cheap or a little outdated and the scattershot screenplay could've done with a bit more polish. I'm interested to see where it goes next though and I'm not ready to write the series (yes, it will be a series) off just yet.
Spoiler sidenote: fuck Johnny Depp. Seriously, they could've cast anyone and it would've been a better choice for Gellert Grindelwald.
The Verdict: 5.5/10
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is an odd beast; it's overlong, jumbled and lacks the polish of Yates' fantastic one-two Deathly Hallows sucker punch. There are some interesting narrative threads to play with going forward but I wasn't caught in Rowling's hex this time and instead left feeling a touch perplexed.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is in cinemas across Australia now