Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
After the CGI shambles of ‘The Hobbit’, the endless swathe of Marvel and DC releases, and the largely likeable ‘Star Wars’ sequel, the Harry Potter franchise made its lurch into the age of the reboot this week with ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’.
J.K. Rowling had so far focused only on a narrow sliver of the magical world by chronicling one boy’s journey through school. It was refreshing then to see the film step away from Hogwarts and try to flesh out the fairly vague world that Harry’s adventures take him through. ‘Beasts’ opens with British ‘Magizoologist’ Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arriving in New York with his case of creatures, successfully negotiating customs before the case is bust open and all hell breaks loose.
Set against a backdrop of suspicion from American Muggles towards wizards, with a mysterious force wreaking havoc on the streets of New York, it’s almost a shame to see Scamander and his quirky animals thrown into the deep end. Although it may not have fit the bill for a blockbuster, there’s definitely a more light-hearted version of this film that could have focused more on the titular Beasts (and where to find them!). Even as Scamander implores his fellow wizards to understand the animals, the film itself lurches towards the human stories as it progresses.
Because of its animal ensemble, ‘Beasts’ relies more heavily on CGI than any other ‘Potter’ film and it largely comes off well, the weird and wonderful wildlife being impressively rendered. In terms of plot they however they are mainly there for scenery, and as other story threads are introduced (some of them fairly pointless) it can be hard to reconcile whether they’re really important to what’s going on.
Among the ensemble Colin Farrell deserves credit for his steely showing as a Wizarding enforcer, while the appearance of a group of orphaned witch-hunters makes for some unsettling scenes. Scamander’s companions, including two wizarding sisters and an oafish Muggle, provide laughs and more importantly give us a route into Newt’s character.
If ‘Beasts’ is any indication, we will hopefully get to see what wizarding life is like in all corners of the globe over the upcoming films. That’s not to say Rowling’s world-building is great; there are inconsistencies abound for the cinema cynic among us. But with any luck we might even get so see Newt in the field actually finding his ‘Fantastic Beasts’ rather than grappling with forces beyond his control.