Director: David Yates
Runtime: 133 minutes
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, et al…
Plot (taken from IMDb): The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.
David Yates has returned to the Harry Potter franchise with the first in what will be another long-running series, but based on this one alone, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them won’t have the legs to carry a new series. This opening film into a new franchise showed fleeting moments of magic, but it didn’t have that many tricks up its sleeve.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) travels to New York in order to set free a magical animal to its natural habitat. Newt is writing a book about the wonderful world of magical creatures, in order to teach the wizarding world about them. Generally speaking, magical creatures are feared, unknown quantities. Due to the uncertainty surrounding magical creatures and what they can do, they are outright banned from New York – not a great situation for Newt, who’s carrying a whole load of them in his suitcase.
Just as you’d expect, it all starts to go wrong for Newt, who, in a mad dash searching for a mole who likes shiny things that goes rogue in a bank (oh dear), manages to misplace his bag with one exactly the same. This bag belongs to a muggle named Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a baker looking for a loan to open his own bakery. Long story short: all of Newt’s magical creatures escape into New York. Newt must then stay with Kowalski, as he’s seen everything and cannot be trusted to go on his merry way. Due to the illegal activities of Newt, he is seen as a threat by the New York magical society. Taken in for questioning by Tina (Katherine Waterston), who works for this kind of magic police, Newt decides he should probably find all of his fantastic beasts.
With Kowalski, Tina and her sister (go along with it) as help, Newt goes off across 1920s New York in search of his magical beasties before anything bad happens to him or the city. These scenes, which are often humorous, are built upon a fantastic relationship between Redmayne and Fogler. Indeed, Fogler’s Kowalski steals the scene whenever he’s on screen. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is at its best when it’s not taking itself seriously, letting the relationship between Redmayne and Fogler shine. Fantastic Beasts also soars when magic isn’t involved. We saw enough magic in the Harry Potter series, so it was nice to see Fantastic Beasts take a more light-hearted, non-magical approach. That is, when magic isn’t involved.
Fantastic Beasts suffers from disjointed themes and mismatched plot-points. The darker stuff involving Colin Farrell’s stupidly edgy good-guy-who-might-be-bad thing gets in the way of a perfectly good light-hearted romp through 1920s New York. Whenever the plot takes on a darker or more serious tone, it derails. We could have had a solid, funny film about a group of people trying to catch magical beasts in increasingly demanding and hilarious ways. Instead, we were given a disjointed film that can take itself too seriously and devolve from fun into straight up stinky bishop. Redmayne’s Newt is a good character, and should have a solid future, but David Yates’ first foray into this new series fell flat.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is fun when Kowalski’s involved, and the group are attempting to capture magical beasts, but it stutters whenever it attempts to be darker or more serious.