As much as I love the Harry Potter series, I am a little dubious of its ever increasing sphere of commercial influence and now, with the release of Fantastic Beasts and the announcement of it being the first part of a trilogy, I am beginning to smell a big Hobbit-scented rat (a foul odour which includes hints of disappointment and banknotes). Well, whatever. The general public and the film industry at large have both decided that these films are going to be a hit, so here I go with my torch and pitchfork to try and shout some sense into the world.
The setting is certainly a fresh one. It’s 1920’s New York, where ‘Muggles’ are ‘NoMaj’s’ and the show is being run by MACUSA, the Magical Congress of the United States of America. In keeping with JK Rowling’s apparent disdain for elected officials, MACUSA don’t really seem to do much rather than simply impede the efforts of the main character purely for the sake of conflict. The main character himself, as all you fanboys and girls are no doubt gushingly aware, is Newt Scamander, a wizarding naturalist who arrives in New York just as some unknown magical force is destroying buildings. Because who needs King Kong any more? Unsurprisingly he gets roped into the drama and has to join forces with an ex-Auror, an aspiring Bake-Off competitor and some blonde chick who can read minds. This last character pretty much just comes under the title of ‘bombshell’ and very little else, bringing JK’s penchant for strong female characters down a bit, but who cares? It’s the 20’s! Great Gatsby and all that pish.
Despite my raging, the setting does actually work quite nicely, with one particular scene in a speakeasy run by a Ron Perlman voiced house elf (seriously, that man can play anything) really making the world its own rather than a simple retread of the original Potter series. The magical creatures are all very well imagined and unique, and I often caught myself trying to remember the pages of the Fantastic Beasts book and attempting to identify each new creature as it was introduced, so I suppose the film has done a good job in terms of immersion. However, as much as the concept of the Obscurus is an interesting one, the fact that it manifests as a destructive black particle cloud smacks just a bit too much of Thor: The Dark World, and its a shame because I know these movies can do better. The plot surrounding the Obscurus is a little all-over-the-place too, with Scamander and co getting roped into it purely by convenience and very little else. And the reveal of the main baddy at the end should surprise absolutely nobody, unless you’ve recently been Obliviated, oh and while we’re on the subject, that spell works on wizards too so the final cover-up by MACUSA makes absolutely no sense. Its a small detail, I know, but it does sadly reinforce the theory that JK Rowling tends to make things up as she goes without checking her own facts.
Overall, don’t expect Fantastic Beasts to light your world on fire, although if you’re the films target audience you probably have already allowed it to do so and are no doubt drafting your hate mail for me right now. It’s not a bad film, by any means. It’s still brimming with that ‘magical’ essence that Rowling has created so well, and Eddie Redmayne’s bumbling British bashfulness is very enjoyable to watch, even if the infuriatingly crowbarred-in romance does render it somewhat infuriating, but overall this is not a film that is going to breathe new life into the franchise. And thats not a bad thing, because the Potter films only ended in 2011, and they’re still good! But that’s what Fantastic Beasts is capitalising on. If you liked Potter, you’ll like this, because it’s pretty much more of it, albeit with less Quidditch. And I might as well reveal my true colours and say that if and when Quidditch Through The Ages gets a film adaption, I will be all over that like a bad case of dragon pox.