Magical. Mischievous. Wicked. Three little words I used to describe Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
You might have thought that after seven novels and eight films, JK Rowling had said everything she had to say about witchcraft and wizardry, but now it seems that Harry Potter’s schooldays were just the beginning. Fantastic Beasts is set in the same hocus-pocus universe as Harry’s adventures, but it shifts the action thousands of miles and dozens of years away from Hogwarts – all the way to New York in 1926.
As exhilarating as all the new sights and sounds are, they crammed so many characters and situations in that it was baffling at times. Rowling’s obviously has a superabundant imagination, but it doesn’t allow the film to pick up momentum with all the minor characters and special effect details in its path. Fantastic Beasts is beautiful to watch, it just didn’t pick up speed.
The film’s lead, Newt Scamander, is a bumbling British wizard who could be a distant relative of the Doctor. Wearing an overcoat, striped scarf and a bowtie, Newt visits New York with a Tardis-like suitcase containing all the weird, wonderful and fantastic beasts he gathers on his travels. Maybe that’s why he seems to be hiding behind his hair the whole movie.
But Newt’s monster hunt is only one of the many plots. There is so much else going on the viewer can forget about the fantastic beasts altogether. There are the meetings in the steampunk headquarters of the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic, where the typewriters clack away by themselves and the elevators are operated by grouchy elves. There is the puritanical anti-witchcraft evangelist with the downtrodden son. There’s the tycoon’s heir with presidential ambitions. A seedy underground jazz club. And Percival, the wizard police chief who has way too much swagger for his name.
Don’t get me wrong, this was all charming Fantastic stuff. Every scene has something ingenious and beautifully designed for viewers to enjoy. But, it’s at the expense of engaging with the lead characters. It frustrated me that the film cut away from them to check on somebody else every two minutes.
The movie doesn’t know where to stop with all the special effects and minute details. Rowling has announced Fantastic Beasts is the first in a five-part series, and I’m sure it will be a series to savor. The sequences when they’re catching these creatures are all really fun to watch.
Go, see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for the imaginative and ornate visual special effects, not for a film that is richly satisfying in and of itself. Bear in mind this is a prequel and muggles will have to wait for more.