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Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Walking out of the cinema in 2012, having watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, I was fairly certain that the franchise was dead. This was an assumption made by an innocent youth, before the hobby of cynical film critic was ever seriously considered. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a spin-off of the franchise set in 1926 America.

The film is directed by David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter films and will direct the next four Fantastic Beasts films, and stars the Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, a wizard who treats the beasts in his suitcase very dearly.

I liked Newt, finding his care for his animals and his weird mannerisms very endearing. Redmayne manages to verbally, but also physically, adopt the part of this character with such strange class, making him endlessly watchable.

Eddie Redmayne (Newt) and director David Yates promoting the film at SDCC
Eddie Redmayne (Newt) and director David Yates promoting the film at SDCC

Thankfully Newt is the main character, as most others were flat and dull. This is due to a mixture of poor acting and writing, with the other characters’ stories bombarding you with constant clichés.

The writing is not only poor when it came to characters, but the plot also seemed to meander uncontrollably during the first act. Many plot points are thrown at us, including an international terrorist wizard, beasts escaping Newt’s box, a politician and an anti-wizard movement. One of these plot points is put on the subs bench for the whole film and should definitely have been cut, while another sub-plot and group of characters are abandoned after two scenes!

The film did a poor job of explaining certain moments; it was never very clear about certain magical objects. The ending seemed to drag on indefinitely as we are needlessly shown each individual character’s ending.

Let’s talk about the one part of Harry Potter that actually matters, the magic! Harry and all his friends didn’t become icons of pop culture just because they were charismatic! The beasts themselves are visually very interesting, with most being highly original. There were a couple of animal-with-a-distorted-face beasts that were more lacklustre than the others, however.

Most of the visual effects look very polished. There was a sense of joy I experienced from seeing a wizard pull someone towards him with his wand and then apparate away, in addition to the fights between beasts and wizards.

There was never really an outstanding moment, a moment I will remember years down the line. You might think this an unimportant criticism, but I watch so many films that it’s hard to remember any which do not have a standout moment.

Just before I went to see the film I heard the news that four sequels were in the works, showing how desperate Warner Brothers are to milk this franchise. After watching this film I can honestly say I would not care if all four are cancelled tomorrow. The film has a few fun moments, however nothing stands out and the script is far too loaded for the magic of Harry Potter to be recaptured here.

Is it worth your money? Not if that money is encouraging a lack of originality among producers. Sometimes it hurts to let go of the things you love, however I think the talents of the cast and crew would best be used elsewhere.

★★☆☆☆