“I don’t think I’m dreaming and I ain’t got the brains to make this up,” said Jacob Kowalski, American No-Maj (that’s a Muggle to us Brits), shortly after the film starts. However, in JK Rowling’s screenwriting debut, she did, and her effort is well and truly a fantastic beast itself!
If you’re looking for a solo trumpet intro, the lopsidedness of Diagon Alley, and a glass or two of Butter Beer, look elsewhere. We are thrown instantly into the scene of a paranoid, superstitious and decadently Art-Deco 1920’s New York, where something dark and unexplainable is harassing the No-Majs, menacing the city, and threatening to reveal the secret magical community. Pamphlets are being handed out calling for a witch-hunt, while the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) meets in grave concern with the fear of their world being exposed. It could lead to all-out war.
Enter Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) – a Magizoologist – with a fresh Dickensian bang of colour to contrast the dull grey tones of Manhattan. From his almost tentative and cautious body language to his mild stutter and general aversion of other people, he is our delightfully loveable, misfit protagonist. (Note from the Editor; If you hadn’t yet fallen in love with Eddie Redmayne, you 100% will after watching this!)
Newt’s visit is quick to get rather comically out of hand when an unintended exchange of luggage leads Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), to unwittingly release many of his collected magical beasts out and onto the streets. Though they are by Newt’s reasoning, a misunderstood bunch in need of love and attention, the chaos scales quickly escalate.
The timing of this mayhem isn’t great though, and Newt is quickly apprehended by Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a willful ex-Auror for MUCUSA who’s back story is cleverly woven in to the fabric of current events (exactly what we’ve come to expect from Rowling). Together with a dazzled Kowalski and Porpentina’s foxy, mind-reading sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), our heroes quest through the city to recapture the escaped beasts and battle the dark entity that has started killing the No-Majs.
The films decidedly dark, and mildly horrific tone is broken up with cleverly timed moments of accidental comedic genius centered around No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, who tumbles through the magical world in his tweed three-piece suit, improvising as he goes. His chance adventure could make you feel a pang jealous!
Although little screen time feels wasted, there are a good few moments when the plot thickens only to immediately cut away, with our attention swiftly diverted to focus on other less relevant events. This is only a small gripe as the detours are entertaining, particularly the club scene. Possibly this is where we see more of Rowling’s writing style in the scripting, as opposed to a full novel being adapted and compressed down into a simpler action-packed series of events (as we know was the case with all the previous Potter films).
Colin Farrell portrays Percival Graves, a spook-like chief of police, with a suspenseful, enigmatic and somewhat oily demeanour. His scenes draw you in to the mystery surrounding the dark entity and do enough to keep theorists guessing until the end.
A small mar on this otherwise enchanting tale is the grand reveal of a certain background character from the Harry Potter films. The scene feels like a short drum roll and leaves you worried for the integrity of the planned sequels, we simply don’t know enough to feel like we have been pulled in (unless you are a complete Potterhead and know absolutely everything that can be known about the Potterverse, and receive the Daily Prophet by Owl every morning just in time to sit down with a glass of freshly squeezed Pumpkin Juice).
The mass memory oblivion issue near the end is somewhat too conveniently solved, though the visuals are satisfying, and we get a rather epic and heart rending moment with one of the most fantastic beasts in Newts collection. The city-wide ‘Reparo’ scene is also impressive and sure to leave the compulsively neat with a warm feeling in their bellies.
It is rather fantastically evident how much work went into the imagination, design and creation of the animated beasts we are privileged to meet, both the unexpected and memorable. For those who have actually read Newt’s book on Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, you won’t be disappointed. Our favourite, a certain duck-billed personality, is as loveable as a mischievous puppy, and is – ahem – right on the money (you’ll get that gag when you watch it).
And a final note to the loyal fans – if you thought the Weasley’s magically expanded tent was wondrous, or that Hermione’s bag was impressive, wait until you see inside Newt’s beaten-up briefcase! (of course, it goes without saying that I want one.)
My final thoughts? A definite win for Rowling and Director David Yates who deliver an enchanting expansion to the Potterverse. More, please!
We rate Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them 100% ‘Muggle-worthy’!
Written by Adam Lewis @thebeardedpt
Edited by J R Manawa @jrmanawa