It didn’t take that long, in the grand scheme of things, for J. K. Rowling to come back to the wizarding world. Even director David Yates is back in on board after his four Harry Potter stints and is set to direct the next four Fantastic Beasts movies. Yes, that’s right, they are already saying there will be five.
Set some 70 years before Harry Potter was a glint in his father’s wand, Fantastic Beasts tells the story of Newt Scamander, Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl). Some of you may remember Newt from the Harry Potter stories as the titular character reads the very book that Newt wants to write. Newt sets about documenting fantastical, wizarding world beasts. He wants to show that they shouldn’t be killed and instead defines them, categorises them.
On his journeys Newt has call to take a trip to New York who are experiencing an upset. The quiet world of wizards is being threatened with exposure as a beast rampages through the city. Newt lands up in the middle of it all and with a little help, if you can call it help, from Porpentina Goldstein, played by Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs), a former wizarding detective and Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury, Fanboys), who’s a No-Maj (or a Muggle), they set about to catch the problem.
What we have here is the first of the J.K. Rowling world of films that the screenplay has been written exclusively by the woman herself. The Potter films have always had someone to turn the book into a script, not so with Fantastic Beasts. Can you tell? Well, not really. Fantastic Beasts perhaps feels a tad slower, it’s long at two and a quarter hours, and some of the dialogue is a bit ‘heard it before’. But that’s being picky, generally, if you’ve seen and liked the Potter films, you’ll feel the same about Fantastic Beasts.
In fact, I think that’s my problem with it. It feels a little too much like the later Potter films. The effects are very similar if not the same. The feel is the same, the style is the same even the dialogue is very similar. Rowling attempts to add some ‘Americanisms’ (you say Tamato, we say Tomato etc) but they are few and far between. When Kowalski does say something that’s of the 1920’s era it stands out so much it makes you realise that all other dialogue up to the that point hasn’t been.
What the franchise has done is bring in a fantastic cast. Alongside Redmayne you have: Colin Farrell (In Bruges, Phone Booth), Samantha Morton (Control, Sweet and Low Down), Ezra Miller (soon to play The Flash), Jon Voight (Mission Impossible, Heat), Gemma Chan (Humans, Submarine), Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy), Zoe Kravitz (Divergent, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Johnny Depp.
Redmayne is good, of course he is. I got the impression the role doesn’t really tax him. He plays an awkward almost geeky, passionate person. Sound familiar? Exactly, we know he can do these roles and do them well. His performance reminded me a lot of Matt Smith’s performances as Dr. Who. Although Redmayne is a lot shyer and spends most of the time awkward in his own shoes, it’s his sudden bursts of enthusiasm that sparked the memory.
However, the person that really stands out in Fantastic Beasts is Dan Fogler and, if IMDB is anything to go by, he’s not even going to be in the next films. Fogler is just brilliant as Kowalski (the name itself from some 70’s TV detective dramas), a fish out of water who we can empathise with as we’re in the same boat. He’s learning about this new world just the same as us, he’s our guide if you will. He’s also the much needed comedic relief in the film which he does wonderfully. It’s quite subtle when you look at it, the only reason it stands out is that everyone else is so poker faced.
The film has uncanny timing dealing, as it does, with an America split down the middle, two sides who don’t understand each other and don’t think they can get along. I liked it, it was fun. I just expected a little more variance from the Potter films then I actually saw.