They’re in the suitcase… just don’t open the suitcase…
David Yates, known for directing the last four Harry Potter films and The Legend of Tarzan earlier this year, returns to J.K. Rowling’s magical world to direct yet another film, this time based on the Comic Relief charity book of the same name published by Rowling in 2001.
Fantastic Beasts (FB) and They’re in the Suitcase stars Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, an alien, a legal alien, an Englishman in New York and author of said book, Katherine Waterston as Tina, a disgraced auror working for the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) and Dan Fogler as Jacob, a no-maj (muggle) who predictably gets caught up in all the action. Colin Farrell also stars as auror Percival Graves and Ezra Miller plays troubled orphan Credence.
I should start this a review with a disclaimer. I was a huge fan of the Harry Potter books growing up. I’ve read them all a number of times and I’ve spent far too much time than I’d like to admit listening to Stephen Fry bring the characters and world of J.K. Rowling alive in the audiobooks. I, however, really do not like the Harry Potter films. They’re poorly written, with goddamn awful dialogue; poorly acted, with the exception of some of the ‘veteran’ cast members; the casting and direction of one of the most important characters, Dumbledore, is incredibly misguided. There’s also huge, gaping plot inconsistencies. The films, while visually and audioally (that’s definitely a word) capturing the magic of Rowling world at least superficially, fail on almost every level to create anything close to what Rowling did.
I rather enjoyed FB, a lot more so than I did any other HP film. Maybe it’s because there’s no (or little) source material to live up. But Peter Jackson managed the perfect book to film adaptation with the much more complex and dense The Lord of the Rings. So I fail to see how Warner Bros went wrong with HP. Actually, looking at Warner Bros’ track record lately, I can completely see how it happened. But, while FB is not groundbreaking, it’s incredibly enjoyable with much more complexity and depth than I thought there would be going in. There’s politics in there, prejudice, religious fundamentalism. It’s definitely got something to say. It’s very of our time, particularly given recent political outcomes in the UK and the USA.
You’ll be pleased to know if, like me, aspects of the HP films made you want to kill everyone on and behind camera, that many of the horrendous, cringeworthy, what the fuck are they doing moments are absent from FB. There’s no awkward teenage angst (is that ever interesting?); no terrible lines of dialogue that will make you want to claw your own ear drums out (“Shoelace” or “Let’s finish this the way it started; together”); no lead character who’s so incredibly annoying and obnoxious that you actually root for the bad guy just so you don’t have to endure his angst any longer (Dan Radcliffe has been great since though!) and there’s no goddamn awful CGI of people being killed and turning into little bits of foil and floating into the sky (maybe a little bit).
What the fuck was that?
Mr Scamander arrives in New York in the 1926 where tensions between no-mags and wizards is high. While officially wizards aren’t recognised by the no-mags, there are groups who are convinced they exist and are calling for their extinction. Similarly, in the wizarding world it is forbidden to even be friends with a no-mag. The tension is rife and you get the feeling we’re on the verge of something big happening (I guess that’s where the four sequels will come in). But this story is very much about Newt and his crew of Jacob, Tina and Queenie (Alison Sudol) as they try to track down the beasts that predictably escape from Newt’s ‘briefcase’ while being pursued by MACUSA. Their story is intertwined with that of Farrell’s Graves and Miller’s Credence and that’s generally tied together quite nicely. There’s a lot more going on here than the trailers would suggest but I won’t spoil that here.
As I eluded to earlier, Redmayne is charismatic and charming and extremely likeable, a nice contrast to Radcliffe’s screwed-up teenage angsty constipation face. It’s refreshing to see a hero be a hero because of his desire to do the right thing rather than because he is the best at something or because he is predestined to save the day. He’s just a nice guy trying to do the right things. Like Scamander, the rest of his gang are equally likeable and down to earth. But the standout performer for me was Ezra Miller. Going into depth about his performance would ruin an important part of the film but he really took it to the next level. And what a haircut.
My only negatives are that there is obviously a lot of world building going on here for future films and sometimes that feels a little heavy handed. It also detracts slightly from Newt as the main character, even if it all comes together in the final act. There’s also a huge event at the end that has zero fallout, it’s just not dealt with or acknowledged at all and that’s incredibly disappointing. The ‘resolution’ at the end of the film is also quite heavy handed and it’s nothing other than lazy writing, if I’m honest.
Overall though, a solid start for Mr Scamander that sets up the future of the franchise nicely and I’m looking forward to seeing where it’ll go next.