Saturday, 25 March 2017

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Samantha Morton, Dan Fogler, and Colin Farrell

Director: David Yates  

133 minutes (12) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Warner blu-ray region B
[Released 27th March]

Rating: 7/10
Review by Christopher Geary

Back in the 1920s, fantastic beasts could be found all over the place, apparently. Hiding underground or flittering about in plain sights that nobody would believe you ever saw. This is a lively prequel to Harry Potter and one that’s hatched - with a perfectly judged timing to chime loudly with Marvel’s first venture into sorcery - from the Rowlingverse of wonders just waiting to be discovered far beyond the ken of unsuspecting muggles.

Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, and the sneering space villain of Jupiter Ascending, plays Newt, a British eco-wizard who travels to New York and gets involved with secret investigations into magical creatures and what to do with them, if they are considered even vaguely dangerous. In WW1, Newt “worked mostly with dragons” but now he struggles valiantly, against a largely uncaring world and the mostly sinister authorities of this colourfully esoteric realm, to preserve the secrets and existence of various strange creatures of vastly differing sizes and temperaments. Not really a traditional fantasy variation of Doctor Strange, this movie owes a substantial debt to Damian Kindler’s Sanctuary, a Canadian TV sci-fi series that also offered a fairly impressive medley of wondrous pseudo-crypto-zoology, but Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them presents its creatures for cutesy laughs and modest Disneyesque charm, with only mildly chilling menace that emerges from a smoky darkness.

Of course, this being a franchise addition to 21st century world-building, the conservation of werediversity is in direct conflict with its own secret society of Men In Black fabulation promoting a conspiracy to weaponise weirdness and, there’s no doubt, enslave many of the other dreamland critters. There’s an especially troublesome demiguise - an endearing platypus shoplifter that’s escaped from Newt’s TARDIS-like suitcase, to wreck havoc in places wherever sparkly merchandise is displayed. Larger beasts provide the main spectacle and there are some carefully wrought urban fantasy sequences to challenge the best imagery that any of the current superhero cinema can deliver. A sequel is in the works for 2018. 

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