Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them
Director: David Yates
By Kitty Turpin
From the universe of Harry Potter comes Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – J.K Rowling’s screenwriting debut and directed by a familiar face, David Yates, who directed the last 4 installments of the Harry Potter film franchise. The film has a familiar flavour that is bound to please any Harry Potter fan (myself included), but upon critical viewing of the film, it presents more questions than answers. Which leads me to wonder after all her successes, what was J.K Rowling thinking?
Set 60 or 70 years prior to the first Harry Potter movie, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an English wizard, stops over in New York City on his way to Arizona. Newt carries a suitcase, which is bigger on the inside, full of magical creatures – a recipe for disaster. When bumping into a no-maj (the American term for a muggle – a non-magical being), his suitcase is swapped and, inevitably, his creatures are let loose on an unsuspecting New York City. Even though his creatures are mostly harmless, Newt, and his new acquaintances, the no-maj Jacob Kowlaski (Dan Fogler) and the fallen-from-grace auror (basically a magical cop) Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), find themselves being blamed for strange magical incidences happening over the city.
There is a lot of Harry Potter jargon thrown into this movie that is almost never explained, or is only explained in an off-hand manner – if you don’t pay attention you’re sure to miss the explanations and sit in the cinema for the rest of the movie trying to decipher what the heck these people are talking about. Even as a Harry Potter fan, at times, I felt lost trying to take in all the new characters, creatures and spells, and at other times, I felt like I simply couldn’t care less about the new characters, creatures and spells.
Eddie Redmayne is a fantastic addition to the Harry Potter franchise. After his less than extraordinary casting in The Danish Girl, Newt Scamander’s character fits Redmayne like a glove – quirky, anxious, and very awkward. Unfortunately, unlike our first encounter with Harry, Newt is a totally un-relatable character.
As a child, growing up with Harry, Ron and Hermione, I could see myself within these three characters or strived to be like them. Harry was a polite young boy, who’d been through the worst but still found the good in everyone and always prevailed with the help of his friends. Ron tried his hardest to protect his friends even if it made him do stupid things like “eat slugs”. Hermione was never afraid to show her intelligence, even if it made her seem standoffish. All of their core characteristics were shown in the first film, and the three grew, experiencing the hardships of teenage life, just like their audience was too.
Rowling lost this charm when creating Newt’s character. Yes, he’s a quirky, anxious, awkward young man (something that I’m sure the audience can relate to), but he feels like a shell of a character: as if he was a flailing turtle, stuck on his back, with the turtle part scooped out. There are certain glimmers of a person, within the shell, but these are portrayed through past life events, which were so obviously withheld so that they could be explained and drawn out throughout the next 4 films of the franchise.
Rowling does let you see a sweet little niblet of the villain, who will no doubt be featured in the films to come, at the end of the movie: it will not only shock you, but is sure to make you satisfied that you sat through the shambles of this movie…and perhaps intrigued for where these films will go.
When I left the cinema, many die hard Harry Potter fans around my age were squealing with joy: J.K Rowling finally produced what they had been asking for since the Harry Potter franchise died. I couldn’t help but feel that their joy was an exaggeration of what we’d all just experienced. It was good, but it wasn’t great.