Spontaneity is the word of the day with J.K Rowling’s debut as screenplay writer, an often directionless but entertaining adventure.
In the world of Harry Potter, a wizard from Britain travels to America with a suitcase full of magical creatures intent on releasing one of them into the wild. But when the case is misplaced and some of the creatures escape, it becomes a problem for both him and for New York’s secret wizarding society.
That’s a very simple synopsis for the overly long titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the spin-off to the Harry Potter stories set in 1920s New York that is based off more of a guidebook than a narrative which Rowling wrote for the Comic Relief charity in the UK. Rowling wrote the screenplay for this film herself, and now it has become the first part of a sprawling five-part film series.
Directed by David Yates (director of the last four Harry Potter films) it could be forgiven that the new film has some screenplay and narrative issues. The first half of this film is a lot of hi-jinx and slapstick action as our hero Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmanye at his absolute most nerdiness) chases down funny, cute little (and big) critters. It is really good fun, and the CGI used to create these monsters can be, more often than not, startlingly good! I can commend the use of CGI if it genuinely looks good, and I cannot stress it enough here.
But for the most part, the first half of this film is a narrative nonsense. I haven’t read beyond the first book and have only watched each of the films once: I am not a Potterhead. I can only imagine that avid fans will enjoy the heck out of this, but for me I felt lost. I quickly forgot why Newt was even in New York, the characters we are introduced to are shallowly developed and have all but the vaguest of chemistry, making sudden emotional moments feel contrived.
This is all before the second story starts running parallel to this one! What, you thought this was one-hundred and forty minutes of just monster chasing?
Colin Farrell is a wizard… investigator (?) working in New York, who has been looking into a No-maj (Muggle, or magic-less human) orphanage that shuns all witches. The less said the better without spoiling anything, but there was little to zero continuity or adhesive between these two plotlines. The film lurches between fluffy fantasy animal wrangling and the darkest, blackest concepts conceived in the franchise yet, as if on the flip of a coin, leading to a third act that blasts in from almost nowhere!
It isn’t a bad film, it is entertaining, the music is often really good (going from orchestral to jazz) the CGI is exceptional at times; almost tricking these tired, critical eyes of mine! Eddie Redmanye is my pick for best performance simply because of his overwhelming awkwardness and shyness, despite this being the very thing that will divide audiences. He isn’t a hero you can really get behind in a traditional (should I say ‘Boy who Lived’) sense, but I felt like his character was the only one who had a story behind it.
Overall, if you are a Potter fan you will lap this up and be excited for more. For the rest of us Muggles, we can appreciate the sheerness of its financial backing to have such good production value. This could have been a straight-to-television experience, but it has been given such love and devotion to its creation that it looks incredible.
Not convinced about four more of these things though…