Fantastic Beasts review: A decent, dazzling franchise debut of a new story set in a very familiar world.

Fantastic Beasts review, Paul Heath.

Fantastic Beasts review
Fantastic Beasts review

It has been five years since Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter took a bow in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, his final big-screen adventure, before hanging up his wand and spectacles for good. Pottermania is ever present however judging from the queues outside the theatre on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue which houses ‘Harry Potter and The Cursed Child‘ to packed audiences each and every single day. J.K. Rowling has said that the play will defnitely not head to the screen as she is very much concentrating on Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, a planned, five-film long series, the first of which opens this week across the planet.

A not directly-linked prequel, but one which habits the same universe as Harry Potter, ‘Fantastic Beasts’ largely takes place in its entirety in New York City in 1929, some 70 years before the story of Harry Potter and Hogwarts. We follow Eddie Redmayne‘s Newt Scamander, a decent enough, though strangely unconfident wizard who is just off the ship from England with only a suitcase for company. Inside are the so-called Fantastic Beasts of the title, a collection of creatures collected and cared for by Newt who accompany him on his travels as he journeys to apparently buy a birthday present in the big city. Of course, not all goes to plan and soon one of the creatures, a Niffler, escapes into a huge bank, something which attracts the attention of both Porpentina ‘Tina’ Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and “No-maj” (Muggle) Jacok Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who is asking for a considerable loan to open a city bakery. The collision between the annoying but cute Niffler and Newt with the bank’s staff and customers sets off a chain of events that leads to the wizard’s case being misplaced and some of the mysterious beasts escaping into the big city.

Fantastic Beasts review
Fantastic Beasts review

From the off, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is an enjoyable watch. John Williams’ famous theme sets off proceedings in the open frames before James Newton Howard‘s enchanting score backs our journey back into strange, but welcomingly familiar territory. Not quite (well, yet) as iconic as his predecessor, Eddie Redmayne’s Newt is docile and reptile-like in appearance, but equally commanding in presence. He is largely over-shadowed by more supporting characters in the picture – both Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller both worth of a shout-out, but it is Dan Fogler‘s bumbling Kowalski who steals the show here in a very funny performance. Drilling down there are notable, if somewhat under-used appearances from the likes of screen veteran Jon Voight and Ron Perlman, but Rowling and returning Potter director David Yates are going for the overall spectacle of this first-parter which has oodles of in-gags for Potterverse aficionados and newcomers to the world alike.

Fantastic Beasts review
Fantastic Beasts review

It’s tons of fun, even if some of the CGI seems a little incomplete is some scenes and the pacing a touch off in others. There’s always a lot going on on the screen, and not only could some of the story be a little harder for younger viewers to follow, they could also find some of the material a little too dark too. There’s some truly scary stuff in there.

Rowling’s first foray into screenwriting is a decent one, and the film does form a very good foundation for future instalments to build upon, but that said, if there were no more movies made in the series, the film will stand-up on its own – it’s very self-contained.

Fantastic Beasts review
Fantastic Beasts review

‘Fantastic Beasts’, while not an instant classic, is still a dazzling, fantastical journey back into the world of wizards and wonder that we all grew up with and love. Rowling’s new world is familiar, though fresh and features a stellar international cast that don’t really put a foot wrong throughout.  A strong start for an intriguing new franchise that we cannot wait to delve into and feat upon in the years to come.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them review by Paul Heath, November 2016.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is released worldwide on Friday 18th November, 2016.