You are dripping with sweat, lying in bed, and although these people are nice they ain’t half weird; floating plates; levitating food; this blonde beauty that is inside your head; and this pink tentacled thing that bit your neck.
The English fellow is in the bed beside you, he hasn’t moved in a while. He’s just clinging to that leather briefcase, the one those… THINGS came out of. They are nice people though, and the serious sister made a magical cup of cocoa.
Without warning, this Newt guy springs to his feet and slams that godforsaken case on the floor. You stare, wondering what in the world is gonna happen next. He clicks the locks, lifts the lid and proceeds to step into the case. Sinking impossibly lower into the floor; the back of his head swiftly disappears. The open case lies there, still, seemingly empty.
Okay, you say to yourself, this must be a fever: you’re seeing things. Then, Newt’s hand suddenly shoots through the floor, out of the open case.
He beckons you to follow.
It is always refreshing to return to a place that brought you so much joy when you were younger, and, thankfully, the Wizarding World conjured by JK Rowling in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them still feels tremendously familiar, yet refreshingly new. Despite being set in 1920s America – some 70 years prior Harry Potter’s first classes at Hogwarts – this charming adventure opens our eyes to the vastness of Rowling’s imagination and to the fantastically supernatural possibilities that lie ahead.
The film follows Newt (Eddie Redmayne) a magizoologist who is a timid cross between David Attenborough and Doctor Who, only with a far superior job title. Arriving in a roaring New York for the first time, and carrying with him a Tardis-like case of curious critters, our hero soon gets himself into trouble. One misplaced briefcase later, and the streets of the Big Apple are teeming with remarkable creatures that our hero, with help from muggle – in America they call them no-majs but I prefer the former – Jacob (Dan Fogler), exasperated wizarding investigator Tina (Katherine Waterston) and her telepathic sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), will seek to track down and recapture. Meanwhile, something sinister is tearing its way through the city, and it seems to have a connection to the menacing member of the magical authorities, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).
There is something tremendously nostalgic to this film, like slipping into some thick gloves your mother knitted for you when you were younger. David Yates’ direction is warm and inviting. Having directed four Potter films, he knows exactly what this universe should be, its feel and its scope. It flows with a familiar smoothness that mirrors the storytelling from The Deathly Hallows. This, along with a cast that are all giving tremendous performances, ensures that this film is for the most parts gripping and entertaining.
Consistently, there are moments where we bask in the wonder of Rowling’s story; feel the amazement of the characters as a world of unknown richness unfolds before our eyes. Unknown being the key word, because, even though there are familiar elements, what truly makes Fantastic Beasts special is its newness. Rather than being confined to a remote castle, magic is coursing through the muggle (sorry but no-maj is a bit of naff name) world at a tremendously compromising rate. Although we had brief encounters with certain creatures in the Harry Potter saga, none of them were as original or beautifully realised as the ones that swoop, scurry and swing across the screen.
Newt, himself, is a wonderfully fresh character and Redmayne’s performance is deceivingly nuanced and refined. Unlike the bold courageous heroes we have come to expect, Newt is shy, a little socially awkward. At one point, he even says to Jacob that “people don’t like me very much.” However, when he disappears into his case, and interacts with his beloved animals, his face lightens up; his performance takes on a new energy and we get a sense of his passion for the natural world. Newt is not concerned with defeating; he is concerned with preserving and talking. Whereas everyone is focused on destruction and concealment, Newt is motivated out of love and compassion for these creatures. His heroicness stems from his care for the natural world, think David Attenborough with a cape.
Fantastic Beasts, however, is not perfect. The subplot that involves Ezra Miller’s character Credence, a bullied anti-witchcraft fanatic, takes a while to become relevant to our group of heroes. Meaning that sometimes the pacing of the film is a little off, and we desperately crave to return to Redmayne and Co. In addition, the conclusion also falls into the recent trap that has plagued many modern movies: the huge CGI menace that begins to destroy the city. Although sprinkled with some original elements and great effects, it is a little too ‘been there done that.’ Also, the final resolution, even though this a world inhabited by wizards and witches, felt to me to be a little too magically convenient. And in some ways, it failed to remain true to certain character tropes that were developed earlier in the film.
Despite faltering at the very end, Rowling and Yates have provided us a wonderfully charming return to a beloved world. The film is unpretentious: accessible for non-Potterheads due to its originality, whilst simultaneously remaining true to what made us fall in love with the Wizarding World all those years ago. At the heart of cinema, there has always been one steadfast notion that permeates what makes the medium so successful. That is capturing the audiences’ imagination. Fantastic Beasts contains all the necessary magic to do so, and I cannot wait to see what adventure Newt Scamander takes us on next.