From J.K. Rowling's wizarding world.
In 1926, Newt Scamander arrives at the Magical Congress of the United States of America with a magically expanded briefcase, which houses a number of dangerous creatures and their habitats. When the creatures escape from the briefcase, it sends the American wizarding authorities after Newt, and threatens to strain even further the state of magical and non-magical relations.
ActorsStarring: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Carmen Ejogo, Josh Cowdery, Ronan Raftery, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Jenn Murray, Gemma Chan, Peter Breitmayer, Kevin Guthrie, Kamil Lemieszewski, Sean Cronin, Christine Marzano, Lasco Atkins, Jorge Leon Martinez, Cristian Lazar, Karl Farrer, Sam Redford, Akin Gazi, Todd Boyce, Jason Redshaw, Anthony J. Sacco, Anne Wittman, Anick Wiget, Andreea Paduraru, Lee Asquith-Coe, Gino Picciano, Flor Ferraco, Fanny Carbonnel, Lobna Futers, Solomon Taiwo Justified, Chloe de Burgh, Andrei Satalov, Edd Osmond, Matthew Sim, Miroslav Zaruba, Elizabeth Moynihan, Adam Lazarus, Ashley Hudson, Bernardo Santos, Lucie Pohl, Dino Fazzani, Tim Bentinck, Bart Edwards, Abi Adeyemi, Brian F. Mulvey, Kirsty Grace
Fantastic Beasts is a spin-off from the Harry Potter universe. The heart of the linkage of this new world is that is also full of wizards and elves and forces of good and evil. In terms of its story, it only provides marginal linkage – a couple of mentions of Muggles and Hogwarts is about it.
This first movie in this new wizarding world (there are four more to come) is set in the past in relation to the Harry Potter movies. In 1920s New York to be exact. A lot of the movie therefore is spent on creating this new world and setting out the origins of this entirely new storyline. And it is a lovingly crafted world with lots of fantastic creatures, but unfortunately, it lacks an interesting plot and worse in view of four more movies in the pipeline, it lacks an interesting central character.
Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, a wizard who ‘loves fantastic beasts’, and is working hard to keep them from extinction. He takes his collection of fantastic creatures from England to New York in order to set one of them free elsewhere in the US, but of course, as soon as he sets foot on US soil, various Beasts manage to escape and all kinds of mayhem ensues…
Trying to catch them again, he gets help from a muggle (Dan Folger) and a so called auror (Katherine Watson), who works for the President of the American Wizarding World. In parallel, multiple additional storylines get introduced. There is the strange woman (Samantha Morton) who campaigns against the dangers of wizards and magic, whilst running a kind of orphanage which might actually be infiltrated by the dark side. Then there is the President’s enforcer Graves (Colin Farrell) who is after a rogue wizard who is breaking all the rules and is endangering the safety of the wizarding world by creating destruction in the muggle world. And there is also a newspaper / media magnate (John Voigt), who features but what his particular relevance is, well, let’s presume that is something that will get clearer in future instalments of this spin-off franchise.
This new JK Rowling world itself is visually beautiful, and although the connection to Harry Potter is tenuous, you do feel at home in this new world fairly quickly – despite various ‘Americanisations’ – a Muggle is now a ‘No-Maj’ for instance…
Anyway, as the various subplots potter along, so does the main storyline. It never gets very exciting. Part of the problem is that Eddie Redmayne’s character is so semi-aloof or whimsical, mumbling away from the corner of his mouth, in a way that Americans love a bumbling Hugh Grant as ‘British cuteness’, that you never really care a whole lot for him or his plight. The only justification given for his drive to save the Fantastic Beasts is because he loves them – but no-one else, literally no-one else in the entire wizarding universe, seems to care for them one bit, so why is this the centre of the story? Undoubtedly this will become clearer in a future movie, but really as an origins movie you need to grab the audience more.
At best this is a pretty movie to look at. But without a central character to like or at least care for, and without a central plot or motivation, it is hard to see how we can sit through four more of these the coming decade…