Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Five years since the last Harry Potter film was released, JK Rowling takes us back in time to her wizarding world with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

But how much has actually changed?

Well, this film is set in 1920’s New York, and the attention to detail given to these new surroundings is one of the most enjoyable elements of Fantastic Beasts.

There’s a lingering hangover from the first world war, with fascism and segregation on the rise in everyday life that Rowling clumsily reflects through her new magical villain, Gellert Grindelwald, and his acolytes.

And naturally we have some pretty fantastic looking beasts, complete with typically ridiculous sounding names that have been brought to life courtesy of a little cgi magic.

That’s about it, as everything else in Fantastic Beasts feels like a prohibition era version of Harry Potter bingo, with some overly familiar dynamics and a predictable plot thrown in for good measure.

So we have Newt Scamander, a young wizard with a troubled past who does things that no-one else can, setting off on a journey to a foreign world.

Once there, he swiftly bumps into a trusty sidekick, Jacob Kowalski, whose every-man ordinariness gives us real folk someone to identify with and laugh at.

Rounding off our threesome is Porpentina Goldstein, a smart young woman whose ambitions have also left her a little lonely as she tries to make an impression in this world.

Ring any bells?

Not only has Rowling recycled her most famous trio but bizarrely, seeing as she’s now liberated from writing for and about children, Fantastic Beasts feels rather infantilised.

Eddie Redmayne plays Scamander as an unloved idiot child with a mental age of about thirteen, channelling most of his awkward Stephen Hawking mannerisms along the way, without retaining any of his intellect or charm.

Leading lady Katherine Waterston looks, sounds and feels like a teenage girl trapped in a woman’s body, while the one-dimensional antagonists our heroes encounter have no real depth or believable reason for being bad other than it’s in the script.

Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol as Kowalski and Goldstein’s sweetheart sister Queenie are easily the best human things about Fantastic Beasts, bringing some humour and a much-needed dash of reality to a muddled and overly convenient plot.

Of course, none of this will matter to the cult of potter fans, who will happily lap up whatever JK Rowling puts out from now until the end of time.

And while I’m not the target audience for this film, I don’t understand why Rowling’s writing hasn’t evolved along with the legions of Harry Potter fans out there who are now grown-ups themselves.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them looks wonderful on the big screen, and will no doubt cast a spell over audiences and families all around the world.

I just wish the magical special effects and sets were secondary to a good story, instead of misdirection for Rowling’s tired and increasingly predictable writing.

Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

November 2016