Review: 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' has a more interesting hero than Harry Potter

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 133 minutes (~2.25 hours)

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a British fantasy film that’s a spin-off of the “Harry Potter” franchise, and the first in a planned series of “Fantastic Beasts” films.

When Newt Scamander, an eccentric magical creature expert, comes to New York, he finds himself caught in the middle of a magical crisis that only his expertise can resolve.

It stars Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander), Katherine Waterston (Tina Goldstein), Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski), Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein), Colin Farrell (Percival Graves), Carmen Ejogo (President Seraphina Picquery), Samantha Morton (Mary Lou Barebone), Ezra Miller (Credence Barebone), Jon Voight (Henry Shaw, Sr), with cameos by Ron Perlman (voice of Gnarlack) and Johnny Depp (Gellert Grindelwald). It is rated PG.

It’s very strange to watch a “Harry Potter” film without having read the book beforehand, which is the case for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” since the plot of the movie is not based on the book.

You’re not going into the film knowing what the story will be, neither are you constantly on the lookout for Easter eggs and sly nods to your favourite elements in the book. It’s a refreshing experience, and just the sort of invigoration that the franchise needs to jumpstart its prequel series.


Newt Scamander is weird but intriguing

Before you ask — no, Newt Scamander is not some sort of magical Pokemon trainer, nor is he inspired by that other franchise. The trailers depict him as an oddball, but he’s rather likeable in the actual film itself, with just a smidgen of strangeness.

His greatest strength is his compassion (as corny as that might sound), which comes full circle because it is what propels him to New York and is essential for resolving the final conflict.

Yet the film doesn’t give away everything about Newt — there’s a hint of his tormented past, which will definitely be explored in future films. Most importantly, he’s a much more interesting character than Harry Potter was.

Same same but different

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” has all the familiarity of an old friend, giving us the same magical world that we’ve seen in the previous eight movies, and a British protagonist.

But it jazzes things up by showing us the distinctly different world view of the magical Americans. Just like in the “Harry Potter” series, there’s a magical bureaucracy that’s high-handed and short-sighted, but their system is different enough that we sit up and take notice.

Their liberal use of Apparition also noticeably stylises their magic. Same enough that we feel comfortable, different enough to keep us coming back for more.

New York in the 20’s

The establishing scenes already set 20’s New York apart from Hogwarts, with tall skyscrapers (figuratively) greeting Newt upon his arrival, and the inclusion of magical bigotry is an apt nod to the circumstances of today.��

There’s a strong sense of entrepreneurship and possibility, with No-Maj Jacob (Dan Fogler) himself being an aspiring business owner. And the magical architecture has a strong steampunk influence — perfect for an Industrial Age analogy.


Much more exposition required

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” takes place in a fairly complicated universe that requires a lot of explanation, especially since magical creatures abound.

There’s plenty of space and text to provide the requisite explanation in a book, but on screen, just describing it just once does not suffice. It’s difficult to remember and keep track of each creature since we only hear how their name is pronounced, and not how it’s written.

So while the visuals are fantastic, your grasp of what’s happening can be compromised by the lack of exposition.

Contrived setup

The structure works pretty well after Act One, but how the four characters come together is horribly clunky.

They have the flimsiest of reasons to continue staying together, which is effectively summed up as “because I like you”. These are strangers, mind you, and one of them is even a suspected criminal.

You can almost see the author’s hand forcing them to stay together until events unfold and mandate that they continue staying together to save the day.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a fun return to the world of “Harry Potter” with a protagonist that’s more intriguing than the eponymous hero of the series.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes, unless you really dislike the Harry Potter series.

Should you watch this more than once? No, though you should Wiki it.

Score: 3.9/5

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” opens in cinemas:
- 17 November 2016 (Singapore)
- 17 November 2016 (Malaysia)
- 17 November 2016 (Philippines)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at The views expressed are his own.