Warning – I didn’t want to write this without spoilers so if you’ve not seen the movie yet, save this for a later date.
“Yesterday, a wizard entered New York with a case. A case full of magical creatures. And unfortunately, some have escaped.”
Having finally got around to watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, that quote from Porpentina Goldstein is an almost perfect review of the movie.
Let’s take this back a little. We’ve grown with the wizarding world since 2001 and had yearly visits to Hogwarts and Diagon Alley. Revisiting that world minus the staples we’ve come to expect is always going to be a slight shock to the system.
The other thing that’s going to be a struggle is taking audiences back to a fairly light world where darkness doesn’t really appear to touch our characters.
Since The Prisoner of Azkaban, the Harry Potter movies have become darker and darker as the story progressed. Whilst Fantastic Beasts starts with newspaper headlines alluding to Grindelwald’s menace, it just takes a while for the story to really get going.
I mean, we’ve seen Voldemort tearing across the world and gaining power, so a story about magical beasts might be considered boring. Yes, I know that that’s on the verge of sacrilege but before you burn me at the stake, having a lengthy ‘happy hour’ was absolutely necessary.
At 2.5 hours, Fantastic Beasts is a long movie, especially for the opener of a series. Whilst the first part of the story feels overly long, it does well to introduce us to Newt, his passions, loves and little quirks. We even learn a lot about his past and his schooling and where most movies might leave that as the start to a series, Fantastic Beasts gives us that and then cranks up the noise.
Before we get to that point though, you need to almost remind yourself that we need to start somewhere and once you settle down, it’s easy to join Newt on his journey and start to become affected by the wider story alongside him.
It’s a clever way of telling a story and it’s proven to be successful. Indeed, we learned as we walked the path with Harry and it’s shaping up to be the same with Newt.
Once we’ve shifted gears, Rowling really starts to flex her muscles.
Little mentions of Grindelwald serve to build up a man that we’ve heard little snippets about before. Add to that some obvious tensions about the role of wizards, witches and muggles (sorry, Nomag’s) and you really get the sense of something that’s going to build wonderfully over 5 movies.
It really is a wonderful movie that’s been brilliantly crafted by Rowling and Yates and whilst I worry that 5 movies might stretch things a little, it’s a truly fantastic start to the franchise.
Whilst I came out of the cinema smiling, I do have one really small problem. Whilst the story progresses really nicely, there are parts that felt a little too ‘Man of Steel’ and I just find it a little lazy. It’s an easy cop out to have an entity smash the city up from the skies and whilst I understand that we’re supposed to see the carnage that evil can create, I’ve just seen it done too many times before.
You know what though, it’s forgivable and not only because of everything I’ve said above.
The twist at the end is simply genius and while it may have been obvious to some, for others it would have been a brilliant surprise. I mean, who didn’t know that Colin Farrell was a bad guy? That was obvious from his first brooding stare but I certainly didn’t expect to see Mr Depp until at least the 3rd movie.
Well played, Rowling. Well played.
4* - Yesterday, I saw a new wizarding movie. It had a case with a 5* review in it. Unfortunately, it escaped. Just.