Some 80 years before the events in Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, much of the wizarding community in America is reeling after the rise and fall of Hitleresque wizard Grindelwald. No-majs (or muggles, as we call them) led by Anti-Wizard and Witch societies have forced the wizarding community underground and out of sight.
Arriving by boat with nothing but a suspicious briefcase, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), stumbles into Tina, a disgraced Auror (Katherine Waterson), and befuddled no-maj Jacob (Dan Folger), who is experiencing magic for the first time. They are spotted using magic in the real world and together they flee the ministry and form an allegiance to hide-out together in Tina’s apartment.
Meanwhile – and this is a movie that is stuffed with ‘meanwhiles’ – a rogue wizard is wreaking havoc on New York City, and hunting him down is top Ministry of Magic enforcer Graves (Colin Farrell), who also appears to have other motives. Meanwhile, a woman runs a cruel anti-witch orphanage which looks to harbour one of the most dangerous wizards of all. And we haven’t even got to these Fantastic Beasts yet!
The film really seems to strain under so many storylines. Being the first of a franchise can be tough as the set-up is so important for future films, but those longer storylines can often muddy the water for the original plot. Perhaps screenwriter J K Rowling only needs to look back to The Philosophers Stone to remind herself how setting up a series and creating a distinguishable storyline for itself can co-exist within the first film.
Also, a quick word of advice: this isn’t a Harry Potter prequel. A few namedrops from the other side of the world places the film within the HP universe, but don’t be expecting any sort of Voldemort origins storyline. Many of you possibly already knew this – I didn’t. It took some rapid rearranging of expectations once I saw the New York backdrop.
The acting feels wonky – and not in that quirky ‘Ron Weasley’ type of way. It’s saying a lot that the creatures we meet seem to have much more personality than the main characters. Throw in some super painful romance between the leads, and viewers may feel more fatigued than wondered by the end.
The name also irks me. There isn’t much to do with magical creatures except small sub-plots (which only makes it feel more like Pokemon GO) – let alone anything that suggests where or how to find them. Conflicting though, while these little furry beasts are perhaps the best thing about the film, they don’t really add anything to the main story and only seem to hold up the film’s slow plot progression. Perhaps the movie should never mind finding the beasts and just worry about finding itself instead.
I will however, give it some points for an enthralling last 30 minutes or so. It’s here where the main story starts to take shape and concentrates on pure action sequence – something the Harry Potter films were always great at.
Make no mistake though, we’re a long way from Hogwarts. Can someone obliviate me?