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Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
3/5
dir David Yates
scr JK Rowling
prd David Heyman, JK Rowling, Steve Kloves, Lionel Wigram
with Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Carmen Ejogo, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Kevin Guthrie, Johnny Depp
release UK/US 18.Nov.16
16/UK Warner 2h13
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Critter hunters: Fogler, Waterston, Sudol and Redmayne

farrell miller morton
See also:
THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 (2010) THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2 (2011)
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Five years later, JK Rowling returns to her wizarding world with a spin-off story set 70 years before the birth of Harry Potter. The mythology is strong, and the film strikes an interesting balance between comedy and adventure. But the characters are too thinly written to be properly engaging, and the plot has the nagging aura of a formulaic tentpole blockbuster.

As America legislates against magical creatures, nerdy zoologist Newt (Redmayne) arrives in 1926 New York with a suitcase full of them. His enigmatic mission is interrupted when three of them escape, linking him with wannabe baker Jacob (Fogler), witch detective Tina (Waterston) and her emotive sister Queenie (Sudol). In the ensuing chaos, Newt and friends cross paths with the rather too-aggressive Graves (Farrell), who works as an enforcer for America's wizarding President (Ejogo) to control public displays of magic. This prompts a series of captures, escapes and adventures while something truly nefarious on the loose.

Virtually everything feels borrowed from other franchises: a deceptively small suitcase, children hiding special powers, a jazzy creature-filled nightclub, a city-levelling finale. The solid actors can sell the trite dialog and paper over action scenes that are shot and edited to obscure all detail of what has happened. But they struggle to bring the endless parade of animated, child-friendly creatures to life.

Aside from some vague innuendo, there's no subtext in the script or direction. The plot is flatly straightforward, including a couple of grim twists. And the production design is resolutely grey. Redmayne pours everything he has into creating the quirky, cheeky Newt, but without even a hint of back-story or discernible purpose, it's difficult to sympathise with him. Waterston gets to deliver Tina's past in random bursts of expository dialog, but never becomes a fully fledged character.

These same problems extend through the entire cast. This isn't as much of a problem with Farrell's hotheaded thug, simply because of his bluster. But the far more interesting characters like Morton's true-believer activist and her deeply disturbed son Miller are both underserved by the script. All of that said, the film is dotted with humorous moments, visual gags and witty interaction. And if the action can't be thrilling or inventive, it's at least sometimes dark and creepy. But if this is going to continue over four more movies, we really need characters we want to take the journey with, and they need to actually go somewhere.

cert 12 themes, violence 16.Nov.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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