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This return to the JK Rowling’s wizarding world throws up enough magic tricks to make it work.
Set in the same universe as the beloved Harry Potter series – which had a massively successful eight film box office run between 2001-11 – you are constantly reminded about everything we loved about the Hogwarts franchise without being given Potter himself.
It’s kind of like you’re constantly being told: “You loved the chocolate ice cream, well here’s strawberry.”
And when you’re regularly reminding the audience of the beloved characters that they admire so much, you could risk making them wish they were watching the Hogwarts gang instead. But luckily there is just about enough here to allow the film to escape from Potter’s shadow – making it watchable fare to boot.
In the first of a planned five-film prequel series, gone are the shadowy Gothic corridors and dull black robes – instead we’re presented with the glitz, glamour and towering skyscrapers of 1920s New York.
The story – directed by David Yates who helmed the final four Potter movies – focuses on Newt Scamander (The Theory of Everything’s Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne), the writer of the titular textbook that Harry studies in the first Potter movie (just one of the many ‘Easter egg’ references) who has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures.
Arriving in the Big Apple for a brief stopover, he meets Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an American witch and former employee for the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), and accidentally swaps suitcases with a No-Maj (American for ‘Muggle’) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler - who steals the show on numerous occasions).
Before long, mix-up madness and hilarity ensues as some of Scamander’s creatures escape. Together, the gang try and retrieve them before too much damage is done to the city and the magical community becomes exposed.
With Fantastic Beasts being the first of a series of films, it’s easy to see all the seeds being planted – waiting to bloom in later instalments. Because of that, the movie can sometimes feel a little overcrowded. More screen time for fewer characters would have arguably been better – perhaps resulting in them being more ‘fleshed out’ on-screen than they are by the film’s close.
Fantastic Beasts is far from perfect, but it’s dark, fast-paced and ultimately a lot of fun – which bodes well for the future of this new franchise.
By the way – going back to the ice cream analogy – chocolate is better, but strawberry will more than suffice.
Rating: 3/5 Mikey Clarke
CAST: EDDIE REDMAYNE, KATHERINE WATERSTON, DAN FOGLER, JON VOIGHT, EZRA MILLER, SAMANTHA MORTON & COLIN FARRELL
RUNNING TIME: 2 HRS 13 MINS
DIRECTOR: DAVID YATES