I did not particularly like any of David Yates’ “Harry Potter” films. I have not particularly liked J. K. Rowling’s recent work. I was thus utterly surprised when I saw “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, and found it an utter delight.
It’s one of those rare prequels that doesn’t lean heavily on franchise ties or continuity issues meant to ensnare audiences heavily invested in previous entries. For the most part, it sets up its own story and own world, the only truly significant tie to the “Harry Potter” series story being small enough that plenty of readers/viewers wouldn’t even remember it. The characters, and the cast portraying them, are all interesting enough, with Eddie Redmayne’s protagonist Newt Scamander, Dan Fogler’s extremely likable Jacob Kowalski, Colin Farrell’s compelling Percival Graves, and Ezra Miller’s pitiable Credence Barebone the particular highlights.
The visuals are actually interesting at times, truly a marvel for a Yates film. 1920s New York is such a creatively fascinating setting, but most of the interesting visual work is done with the eponymous beasts, with many of the more fascinating sets never really getting much of a lingering shot.
J. K. Rowling wrote the script directly herself, a first for her. This is no adaptation; it’s original work. She transitions very well into the screenwriter role. It doesn’t feel like a book shoved into the medium of a film, it actually feels like a film through and through, something I couldn’t stay for even the best of the “Harry Potter” films. Franchise-building for the apparent four sequels is kept to a minimum. Honestly, the few set-ups I saw for sequels I probably wouldn’t have interpreted as such if this film was sold as a standalone in the marketing. It’s a story with enough closure to be complete unto itself, though I’m keen to see what happens next with the characters and setting.
The film actually had a sense of magic, of warmth and creativity, something so prevalent in the early “Harry Potter” films, yet something I found personally absent in all the latter ones, even the one I particularly liked (the seventh film). Yates and Rowling did something I truly did not think they’d be able to do before seeing the film, they started a series I’m absolutely invested in seeing continue. Even better, plenty of its strengths are unique to it, not being present in the “Harry Potter” films (the latter ones at least) – I don’t refer to story aspects, but things like visual creativity, sustained storytelling in a proper adult non-school context, and so on.
This film was the best kind of surprise – a very pleasant one! I give it three mooncalves, and a niffler.