David Yates is back at the helm for his fifth Potter film but this time, there’s no Potter. This time the star of the show is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), fictional author of the similarly fictional Hogwarts textbook. Fantastic Beasts is a prequel to the more Potter-filled films, but this time we’re in 1920’s New York and honestly it’s a more than a welcome breath of fresh air. I’ve loved the Harry Potter series from the moment I was introduced to Privet Drive at the age of eight. But even I can admit that by the end of the eighth film the story of Harry had run its course and every inch of Hogwarts had been explored. The wizarding world of other countries have been briefly portrayed and mentioned before but this is the first time we get to experience them first hand.
We meet Newt, fresh off the boat and seemingly out of his depth. Newt’s main problem is his suitcase full of a variety of magical creatures and that’s also part of the film’s main problem. For the first half we chase a load of CGI creatures around New York but none of them are on screen long enough to really grab your attention. Apart from the Niffler. That thing is cute and garners a few genuine laughs. Expect a plushy version in all good toy stores soon. The second half of Fantastic Beasts picks up when the growing threat of a certain dark wizard takes hold and the much more interesting plight of Credence (Ezra Miller) begins to play out on screen.
Redmayne does a decent job of portraying the bumbling Brit that American audiences seem to be so in love with but it’s Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves, a high ranking Auror, that completely steals the show. Farrell made it clear in a few interviews that he has been dying for a role in the Potterverse for years and so jumped at the opportunity. And it shows. He plays Graves with such menace that you can only imagine the fun he must have had with it. It adds a tone of fear to proceedings and the film is all the better for it.
And oh, this film is dark.
If you were expecting a joyous trip through New York cheerily hunting down a myriad of creatures like a 1920’s Pokemon master then think again. Just as you’re tiring of the chase you’re tipped into the deep end with threats of torture and death hanging over our heroes. Information comes flying thick and fast with a few nods to previous instalments thrown in as fan service to the initiated. You won’t miss out on anything too significant if you’ve been living on the moon for the past decade and somehow missed the Potter phenomenon but there were a few instances where I found myself leaning over to explain little titbits to my girlfriend.
Which brings me to potentially one of the most important points. What JK Rowling and David Yates have done so well is to open up the world that so many love to a new audience. And with another four films on the horizon that’s a good thing! If you’ve been wanting to get into Potter but the prospect of eight films has been too intimidating then this film is for you.
It may be a film of two halves and an information dump at times but should you see it?
Absolutely you should.