Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them is based on a fictional textbook about all the different creatures that inhabit the Harry Potter world. If you have seen the movie Adaptation you will know that taking a non-fiction book without a plot is very difficult. There’s not a lot to help shape the narrative.
I must confess that I am not a Harry Potter fan. I don’t hate the world but I have found that there are other, even more richer fantasy worlds to get involved in rather than this one. So this movie has a lot of work to do to appeal to me.
We open with a colourfully dressed character with a frizzy head-of-hair named Newt. He is getting off the boat and entering New York City in the Roaring Twenties. He carries a suitcase with him that (like Doctor Who’s TARDIS) is bigger on the inside. And inside this case is an entire zoo of Beasts, fantastical creatures. While walking the streets one of the Beasts, a money grabbing mole, gets out and enters a bank, while in pursuit his path crosses with Jacob Kowalski, a local New Yorker that’s trying to get a loan for his bakery. And from there-on we have our movies duo.
Eddie Redmayne as Newt (just like he was in The Theory of Everything) is the best part of the movie. He is a shy and awkward around people, but not the typical portrayal of these types of characters we usually see. He is a sensitive soul that is clearly most happy and truly at home interacting with all the beasts.
He and Dan Fogler as Kowalski are the only actors on the side of our protagonists that seem to be invested in the material. The others seem out-of-place and uninterested. But Newt and Kowalski make a good pair, Newt is inexperienced in New York and the non-magical world and is charmed by Kowalski’s simple mentality, while Kowalski knows nothing about the magical world and is fascinated by everything Newt has to offer. Each of them can provide exposition to the other so the audience is also well informed and the actors work together beautifully.
The other obvious really strong element to the movie is the Beasts themselves. We get a whole bunch of different Beasts that range from the the handheld to the size of a house, all are different shapes and need to be handled differently.
There are some clues that an audience member begins to pick-up on through general experience. You learn that one character may be saying one thing but means another etc. But as soon as we see Colin Ferrell as Percival Graves you will instantly think “Villain!” and you’ll be right.
Also included in the movie is a group of orphans that are abused and also know about the wizarding world. Among them is Ezra Miller as Credense Barebone, just as creepy as We Need to talk about Kevin but in different ways. More like a oily, sad creep, lurking in the darkness.
It is these elements, with Ferrel and Miller where the movie makes it’s biggest mistakes. They are so dark and unpleasant, when we just had some good colourful fun with Newt and Kowalski that they really seem like they are part of another movie.
The final climax comes in the form of a threat that is literally just a shapeless blob on-screen that destroys all in its way. It is almost as un-engaging as the final villain fight in Green Lantern.
This could have been a simple tale of a stranger in a strange land with a case full of trouble and they get loose, so now he and his newly acquired friends have to retrieve them. That’s all that was needed, but having a villain included as well as this political stuff is just unnecessary and muddies a simple tale.
The movies biggest fault comes in it’s ending. I wont spoil it but there is a reveal. And it makes absolutely no sense and comes out of nowhere. I had no idea what was going on until I had a brief talk with one of my friends that is a much greater lover of the Harry Potter lore than I am. This relies so heavily on the audience being fluent in the lore to make any sense, maybe for those people it will be a jaw-dropping moment but I was just bewildered.
There is an audience for this movie. Its not me. The people that will like it are obviously the Harry Potter fans that will take more of the world in any form. Others will simply be taken by the special effects that are happening on-screen and be happy with that. Others, like me, will be smiling at the great duo of Newt and Koalski. So I would recommend this to the Potter fans, but if my best friend asked if they should see it and they were not. They can probably live without it.