With J.K Rowling's newest venture hitting the big screens today, Kevin O'Mahony reviews the wizarding story set in 1920's New York.
Director: David Yates.
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton.
Running Time: 133 min
Like many of those reading this, I grew up with Harry Potter. I was just the right age to experience Pottermania at it’s peak, eagerly awaiting each new instalment and always consuming the weighty tomes in a matter of days. I was into it - I was even hooked on those chocolate frogs that accompanied the earlier film’s releases.
And yet, the Potter movie universe never quite did it for me. It is, of course, important to note that the quality of each of the eight films wavered, some being far more enjoyable than others, but the overall tone always seemed to leave me a little cold. I was admittedly relieved when the final installment hit in 2011. But nevertheless, the films were mind-blowingly successful, having amassed a grand total of over $8 billion at the worldwide box office.
And so it was that the Potter franchise lay dormant for some years and Warner Bros were left with a giant, gaping hole where their magical cash cow used to be. Then in 2014, it was announced that audiences would be treated to a return to Potterland in the guise of 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them'. Rowling herself was on board to pen the script - basing it loosely on her short story of the same name. Potter veteran David Yeats was even signed on to direct and the magic machine was back in full swing.
The resulting film is surprisingly fun, punchy and romps along with delight. It opens on a welcome note with John William’s familiar ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ pouring out of the sky. We are then introduced to our main character Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), as he travels to swinging 1920s New York on business (of a magical nature).
Redmayne injects Scamander with an offbeat, shy and scatty charm as he fumbles his way around period Manhattan - suitcase of magical beasts in tow. It is plain to see that the young Oscar-winner is having tremendous fun in the role and it helps that he is surrounded by a superb supporting cast including Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton and Dan Fogler - a scene-stealing ‘no maj’ who gets caught up in Scamander’s misadventures.
The first thing to note is that this film is fun and, unlike the latter installments of the original series, funny. The packed screening in which this reviewer sat exploded with laughter quite consistently throughout and it it hard not to be charmed by some of the set-pieces on show. The younger members of the audience certainly seemed captivated by the unfolding events.
Secondly, the film feels fresh. The 1920's period setting allows a lot of room for humor and intrigue and the set design and art direction are wonderful. Also, by moving away from Harry and his woes, the franchise is now freed up to explore different routes while still very much staying loyal to its source. There are even some little Easter Eggs and a wink and a nod to the series gone before. And with five more films in this franchise to come, the series is in safe hands as it does enough world-building to ensure that there is plenty of material to draw from.
And yet it does have structural flaws. Some of the scenes involving the beasts do drag, and there might be a few characters that felt rather expendable. Nor is it always easy to warm to Redmayne or his romantic lead Katherine Waterston, while the villain feels rather tacked on.
VERDICT: A very competently made, imaginative and fun return to J.K. Rowling’s world. Although a little juvenile and structurally messy at times, the film injects the Potterverse with a newfound energy and spark. Bring a Pottermaniac, load up on Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans and enjoy.
☆ ☆ ☆
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hits Irish cinemas today, Friday 18 November.