Minor spoilers and allusions . . .
I’m going to come right out and say it, so that you can filter what I say through this one sentence.
I love J.K. Rowling.
I was always a bit scathing of the Harry Potter phenomenon, believing the books – after Prisoner of Azkaban to be overwritten and in desperate need of a good editor. I actually still believe that, but seeing the movies tempered my scathing. They allowed me to read past Goblet of Fire – actually, I think I got half way through Order of the Phoenix before I gave up, exasperated – and actually enjoy them.
‘The Casual Vacancy’ is a breathtaking and fantastically bleak book and her ‘Cormoran Strike’ novels – as Robert Galbraith – extend that bleakness, but in a very different way. Shame upon shame, I brought the Cursed Child screenplay and haven’t read it yet.
So. A slightly self-aware fanboy, right? Well, I don’t play Quidditch, that’s for sure and I’ve never done one of those “what house are you in” quizzes. I did once do a “which one of Dumbledore’s Army are you?” though. Luna Lovegood since you ask, and I’m fine with that.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” is a slightly different prospect. Based on a very short book – that was a Comic Relief special along with “Quidditch Through The Ages” – Newt Scamander’s bestiary provides the basis of the movie that sees him travel to New York with a case full of magical creatures. On arriving, he discovers that New York is under attack from an unidentified beast and that there is a blanket ban on owning or breeding them. So of course, some of the – occasionally adorable – creatures escape the case and wreak havoc.
The thrust of the movie is actually fairly slight and fairly simple. Animals escape: get them back, but so much so set up for part two; the identities of the villains (if they are villains), the arrival of a NoMaj hero (if he is a hero) and many pointers and references that the savvy fan can point at and go “ooh!”
What’s particularly interesting is the extremely apparent analogy to the current political situation, something that would probably have sounded preachy coming from an American writer, but from JKR seems . . . incisive. One or two moments seem a little confused, such as the supposed tensions between the Maj and NoMaj threatening to explode into a war. Difficult when NoMaj’s are – by and large – unaware of the magical community. Where contact is made, more and more in recent months, there’s a clean up operation and a swift round of ‘obliviate!’
Even when the crux of the movie happens – the death of a NoMaj at the hands of the unknown creature – the same creature causing spectacular mayhem in the city by the way – the obliviate spell is always there in the back of your mind. Potter was always good with a big red reset button.
Where it excels, though, is pretty much everywhere else. The set pieces, the locations, the CGI – orders of magnitude more realistic than in Harry Potter – the performances and the entire vibe. It’s Potter’s world, for certain, but different enough to be fresh and exciting. And oddly grim.
Eddie Redmayne’s Scamander is both awkward and wise beyond his years and at times seems to be channelling Matt Smith’s Doctor Who; his co-stars, especially the Dan Fogel as the down on his luck and very likeable Jacob Kowalski; a NoMaj dragged into the magical world. The relationship between the four leads is wonderful and touching and the ending that may or may not be as sad as it looks and is perhpsa little bit heartbreaking,
The villain of the piece is very well played by Colin Farrell and his comeuppance came as something of a surprise but the most interesting character, other than Scamander, is the tragic – and wonderfully named – Credence Barebone, played by a suitably haunted Ezra Miller. There are, of course, many unanswered questions like “Where is Percival Graves?”, “Who is Credence Barebone?”, “What was the weirdy little black thing crawling the walls?”, “What on Earth did *those* words mean?” and “What relevance does the mention of . . . certain family names have?”
Btw, Ron Perlman makes a guest appearance and the weird thing is, his CGI character looks an awful lot like Ron Perlman. Wasn’t quite sure of the point. . .
Ultimately, though, it’s a great, fun movie and the set up here bodes well for the next four – count ‘em – movies.
Do you know how difficult this has been? I mean seriously when a movie is genuinely ‘magical’ and ‘spellbinding’ and it’s about magic and spells, it comes over as a terrible cliche and cheap journalism – like when journos use “spooktacular” at hallowe’en, it’s unforgivable.
But, it’s true. It *IS* magical and it *IS* spellbinding.
And it IS bloody Fantastic!
So deal with it.
Oh, and watch for the haircut . . .