As a huge fan of the Harry Potter books I remember the exact moment I lost all interest in the movie adaptations.
It was the scene in the fourth film The Goblet of Fire, when Dumbledore angrily assaults Harry for putting his name in the goblet. Coming from Prisoner of Azkaban, one of the best films I’d ever seen, Goblet put an irredeemable dent in my expectations from the film versions of the Potter universe.
The subsequent films were predictably more and more forgettable, and the final film had a painfully underwhelming fight scene between Harry and Voldemort considering I’d waited for almost ten years to see it on screen.
So when an adaptation for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was announced, I naturally didn’t have big expectations. Now, whether it’s the low bar or the fact that it was written by JK Rowling herself isn't entirely clear, but Fantastic Beasts... is a nice expansion of the Potter universe, and definitely the best since the third film, Prisoner of Azkaban.
This time we’re taken back to the 1920’s when a young Englishman named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a strange suitcase that seems to contain something dangerous. But also on the prowl is a dark wizard named Grindlewald who is responsible for many terrorist attacks.
Adding a far more dangerous layer is an unknown monstrous entity that’s been let loose in the city and is causing significant damage. Scamander gets embroiled in a race against time to stop the menace and also secure the contents of his increasingly weird suitcase.
What makes the film far more interesting than the previous Potter movies is that the filmmakers are not bogged down by the ‘children’s film’ genre. The themes in this film are far darker and more adult than anything seen previously, and while some scenes might be too scary for kids the young adults are going to find it quite entertaining. It’s also nice to see the Potter universe expand away from the confines of Hogwarts, and the amazing VFX laden production design brings out some eye popping detailing of 1920s NYC.
The titular beasts themselves are imaginative and fascinating, and how Scamander is connected to the beasts is an interesting commentary on how humans treat something they are not aware of in a negative manner. When the film isn’t dark and scary it’s also quite funny which is a breath of fresh air from the persistent gloom and doom of the previous four films.
On the negative side the film is directed by David Yates, who, to be honest, is a very bland filmmaker. Just like in the previous four Potter films, he had very high quality written material, top of the line visual effects and interesting characters at his disposal, yet his direction has a synthetic, un-energetic feel.
It somehow offsets the high bar set by the other technicians working on the film. The fact that he’s going to direct all five Fantastic Beasts films is a worrisome aspect because the franchise could use a fresh filmmaking style, of someone like Alfonso Cuaron, who made the third film. The other let down is the music by James Newton Howard, which is quite a far cry from the all time classic theme by John Williams, and is merely a standard issue generic ‘blockbuster movie’ score.
The finale of Fantastic Beasts poses some interesting new revelations, and it would be interesting to see where Warner Brothers takes the franchise from here. There’s quite a bit of lore left to explore – in fact it’s already been announced that Grindlewald will make an appearance in the next films – let’s hope his inclusion is an original take and not just another soft reboot of Voldemort.