After years of anticipation, the Harry Potter spin-off has finally arrived on-screen. It promises even more magic and boasts a stellar cast but does it live up to the hype?
Set in 1920s New York, Fantastic Beasts establishes the wizarding world long before the Harry Potter era. Controlled by MACUSA (the Magical Congress of the United States of America), wizards and witches have been driven into hiding from No-Majs (American for muggles). Then Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) rocks up and unwittingly unleashes havoc as magical creatures escape from his suitcase.
While it may sound like a rather pedestrian plot for J.K.Rowling to continue cashing-in on her beloved franchise, it’s actually the sub-plots that have a lot to say about modern day politics. It isn’t preachy like Rowling’s Twitter account, though. Nobody is shouting “The sorting hat was trans” here. Instead there are mad religious preachers warning of the dangers posed by black magic and hierarchical magicians suppressing witches and wizards to prevent an all-out war.
For the first hour or so the plot essentially revolves around Newt and Jacob (a No-Maj he happens upon under extremely convoluted but very funny circumstances) catching creatures in New York. After this the plot takes a very dark turn and actually had some pretty dark jump scares, made all the more creepy for Ezra Miller’s performance as an abused young man, Credance Barebone.
The trailer may have made it look more like a child-friendly flick about catching magical creatures but when there are scenes of children being lashed with a belt, it’s easy to argue otherwise. Said scenes were probably some of the most shocking. But most of the beasts are very cute to be fair.
Bringing comic relief to some of the darker moments and scenes which otherwise could have been rather pedestrian are Alison Sudol as Queenie and Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski. One of the few gripes with this film is that it seems a bit like Eddie Redmayne was just going through the motions and was outshone by Sudol and Fogler.
This is the first film in a proposed five film franchise so of course it has to spend some time establishing events still to come. It does this sparingly enough at the start so as to not become bogged down in excess mythology and world-building. There is also a twist at the end of the film that will have you begging for more. However, the prospect of Johnny Depp playing the villain, Gellert Grindelwald, in the next film still leaves a bit of a sour taste. There are many actors better suited to the role and people moved on from his schtick about five years ago (can you name a majorly successful film that he has headlined in the past few years?).
Despite a couple of minor gripes, not only does it live up to the hype but it far exceeds any prior expectations. It’s fantastic to have some magic back on the big screen at last.