I walked into the cinema and asked to see Fantastic Creatures. That’s the level of interest and knowledge I had about the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I wasn’t a fan of the main movies, and only saw four out of the eight on the big screen.
Newt Scamander, socially awkward, but with a deep love and respect for all magical and marvelous beasties, was expelled from school after a ‘misunderstanding’ involving one of his critters. So far, so Hagrid.
But unlike the gruff half-giant gamekeeper, gangly magizoologist Newt still has his wand and knows how to wield it.
We begin his story in 1926 during a trip to a very repressive New York, where the magic community are forbidden to marry or befriend any Muggle – sorry – No-Maj.
Newt bumbles into rotund wannabe baker No-Maj Jacob (Dan Fogler), who accidentally makes off with Newt’s suitcase. Unfortunately, the magical case is a Tardis-like kitty-basket, and the beasts are soon running amok all over the city, which is already being ravaged by an unknown magical destructive force.
- Cursed Child Review – Unfortunately, some Muggles didn’t realize that Cursed Child is not a new novel, or a novelization of the play, but a play. Oops.
The international climate is grim, as baddie wizard Gellert Grindelwald has begun his reign of terror. Chuck religious nutter Samantha Morton into the mix with her one-woman-band anti-witch Salem brigade, and Newt’s arrival is bad timing.
Disgraced former Auror Tina (Katherine Waterston) – who rooms with her winsome sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) – makes herself even more unpopular with the magical authorities by bonding with Newt and his new-found No-Maj sidekick.
A lot like their British counterpart, the American wizard government is secretive and oppressive, but naturally just a bit more glamorous, with Carmen Ejogo as president and the incredibly handsome Auror Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) stalking the alleyways. (This guy is something to brag about, while our British witches simper over the likes of Gilderoy Lockhart.)
I’m avoiding spoilers here, but Farrell was an inspired choice for a character that has to be slightly…ambidextrous? (I think the casting switcheroo at the end will cause problems going forward….)
Freed from the bland casting that shackled his previous Potters, director David Yates has also got one of the acting world’s few young male standouts, Ezra Miller, as Samantha Morton’s troubled adopted son Credence Barebone. He doesn’t get much to do, but it’s enough to make you wonder what the Potter movies would have been if the producers had been brave enough to ditch Radcliffe after the Columbus era.
Beasts is the same universe and from the same pen, but it’s a world away from the twee, leaden movies where overgrown child actors stomped around and each pompous installment was touted as “darker” than the one before, their portentousness undermined by Radcliffe’s inability to do anguish.
Verdict: Unlike the writers tasked with adapting her novels, Rowling wrote Beasts as a original screenplay, and it is nice to go in not knowing the story, even if this first trip is only setting up four (FOUR!) sequels.