Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

This much-awaited prequel to Harry Potter starring Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell and Katherine Waterston has little magic, and certainly isn't ‘fantastic’

Film Review by Philip Concannon | 17 Nov 2016
Film title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Director: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller
Release date: 18 Nov
Certificate: 12A

We already know that there will be at least four sequels to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so couldn't J.K. Rowling have saved some of this first film's content for a later instalment? This prequel to the Harry Potter series, Rowling's first screenplay, feels hopelessly cluttered and unfocused, and the novelist might have been advised to work alongside a screenwriter with a better sense of movie pacing and characterisation.

It's hard to watch the overlong sequences in which Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, bringing a wide-eyed, grinning blankness and little else) wreaks havoc while trying to recapture one of his escaped creatures without wishing that the time could have been spent instead developing Colin Farrell's sketchy antagonist Graves, or more elegantly tying together the film's scattered plot.

As a spectacle, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is as big and loud as you'd expect a $180 million blockbuster to be, but there's a weightlessness to the film's CGI action and a sense of inconsequentiality that repeatedly undermines it – after every set-piece, memories can be wiped and destruction cleaned up with the flick of a wand. It also feels like a catastrophic failure of imagination to spend almost two hours showing us a variety of imaginative animals only to have the climactic showdown involve nothing more than an angry black cloud.

There are no emotional stakes here, because Rowling and the dully efficient director David Yates have failed to put in the required groundwork to make these relationships mean something. In fact, the only time the film does land on something that feels real is when it focuses on Dan Fogler's wannabe baker and Alison Sudol's lonely mind-reader. Their flirtatious, low-key charm has a spark and warmth that no amount of CGI can replicate, and it's the closest thing to magic in the whole movie.

Released by Warner Bros.