“You endangered human life. With a beast.”
It’s a strange feeling to walk into a screening of a film based in a universe you are completely indifferent about, starring an imbecile you really don’t want to watch on a big screen again, completely expecting to hate every minute; only to walk out a couple of hours later desperately clawing for something negative to say because as much as you enjoyed it, you still really, really want to hate it.
So, that Fantastic Beasts nonsense, huh? It’s a bit long, innit?
That’s all I’ve got. Seriously.
Having just completed a worldwide expedition documenting any and all magical creatures he can find, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in 1926 New York with a suitcase filled with the beasts he’s been collecting. When one of his creatures escapes from the bag he’s carrying and causes a little carnage in a bank, it puts the young wizard in the path of regular, non-wizard, New York citizen Jacob (Dan Fogler) and into a situation where the pair accidentally switch cases. After more of Newt’s creatures get loose and start causing havoc, he convinces disgraced magical investigator Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) to help him recover the case and its contents.
While in New York, Newt finds himself tangled up with the local investigative arm of the Magical Congress of the United States of America and a strange entity that is terrorising the city making it really tough for the wizard community to live in secrecy from the rest of the world (I will not say muggles, I will NOT say muggles). Being chased by Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and trying to unpick the mess that New York is in at the same time needs Newt, Tina, Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob to work together to beat the magical forces seemingly around every corner stacking the odds up against the group.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an interesting… beast. Essentially a prequel to the Harry Potter series and set in a different country, long time Potter director David Yates gets to have fun inside this world (let’s be honest, Harry Potter is the only time this guy does well. *Cough* Tarzan *cough*) and yet he gets to build a whole new world inside of it. Whole new, somewhat simplified, names for things we’ve all come to know in this universe are here for us to learn. But we learn with Newt, who, as a former Hogwarts student, knows all the stuff we know and has to unlearn everything as we do.
Muggles (God-fucking-dammit) are now No-Mag’s (yeah, seriously, no magics – told you it was simplified), the counsel now has a fun sounding acronym – MACUSA, said how it’s spelt, like a second-rate bond bad guy. And plenty more I won’t spoil here. But amazingly, as a person indifferent to Harry Potter and its legacy, I managed to keep up with everything, keep track of what was going on and understand almost everything said on screen – something tells me that’s the point of this nice new/old setting. Those like me can still enjoy and get invested in a world so many others have lived in for a long, long time.
But the stars of the show are, as the title suggests, the Fantastic Beasts. Inside Newt’s bag – a bag that puts Mary Poppins’ bag to shame – live some of the greatest monsters ever put to film. From the tiny stick insect lookalikes to the enormous rhino-a-like that spends a bit of time totalling New York City Zoo and forcing Newt to do one of the stranger things you’ll see in this film as he does an insane mating ritual to try and entice this thing that looks like a dinosaur back into his case. Winged beasties, invisible troublemakers and a collection of dragons makes Newt’s case a modern day Noah’s ark. Just with animals on board that could set it on fire!
But man, the effects team have done an outstanding job on the creatures. You could literally go to the cinema just to see the Beasts on the big screen and not bother with the rest of the film and still come out satisfied.
Like I said back at the start, the film could definitely do with trimming maybe half an hour from its run time. The film felt very, very long and by the time I got to the end, as fun as it was, my arse had had just about enough of the torturous run time and was begging me to get up and go for a walk. More than a few scenes could’ve done with a couple of minutes shaving from them to tighten up what is otherwise a decent film.
The direction is everything I’d expect from a Harry Potter veteran and even the performances were universally good to very good – even from Redmayne, a man I only recently spent time on the podcast slating for his lack of ability to do anything but look like an effeminate piece of cardboard. I mean, he’s still the big screen equivalent of a lumpy fart, but I didn’t utterly hate him this time around. Overall, though, everyone did their part and made it an entertaining couple of hours.
Now the universe has been built and the series bad guy has been introduced, I expect a much better, much tighter sequel in a couple of years. But until then, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a surprisingly fun outing and a refreshing take on a rather stale world.