A mightily impressive fifilm
> The first entry in a planned Fantastic Beasts franchise only serves to whet our appetites for its future sequels
IN THE wizarding world, to be ‘obliviated’ is to forget what you’ve just witnessed. There’s no danger of that happening to audiences who come to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The film, directed by David Yates and written by J.K. Rowling, is a spin-off from Rowling’s wildly-popular Harry Potter book series that spawned its own film franchise that grossed over US$7 billion (RM30.8 billion) worldwide.
Fantastic Beasts is rousing filmmaking that combines astonishing special effects with plenty of humour and pathos.
At times, the storytelling becomes very dark, verging on film noir, but even at its most foreboding, the film never loses its charm or its winning whimsicality.
Instead of Hogwarts, we’re in New York in 1926 – the era of Boardwalk Empire, gangsters and speakeasies – with British eccentric ‘Newt’ Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), expelled from Hogwarts some years before, arriving in America.
The young wizard is carrying a battered brown suitcase that contains within it some of the fantastic beasts that give the film its name.
Redmayne gives an ingratiating performance as the Englishman abroad. His dress sense rekindles memories of Tom Baker-era Dr Who while his solicitousness towards his animals at times lends him a David Attenborough-like air.
The beasts themselves are compulsive scene-stealers. The most adorable is the ‘Niffler’, a platypus-like little gonk addicted to shiny things.
There’s a delightful comic setpiece in which the Niffler escapes the suitcase and rampages across a bank, guzzling coins and silver wherever it sees them and leaving Scamander trailing in its wake.
It’s in the bank we’re first introduced to Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a No-Maj (American parlance for ‘Muggle’, which is to say those without magical powers).
Kowalski is the human equivalent of the Niffler, a lovable underdog with a mournful charm about him that enraptures everyone from Scamander to Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) who can read people’s minds and knows immediately just how sweet natured he is.
It’s also at the bank that we are first introduced to Queenie’s sister Tina (Katherine Waterston), who works for the Congress of the United States of America, which seems to be the wizards’ answer to the FBI.
She wants to arrest Scamander, who is suspected of smuggling dangerous animals into the country, partly to redeem herself due to a recent demotion.
As in the Harry Potter series of films, the filmmakers have filled the cast with redoubtable character actors.
These include Ron Perlman as a goblin-like gangster who runs an underground bar, Samantha Morton as a stern, Quaker-like matriarch who wants the wizards destroyed, and Ezra Miller as a troubled teen who turns out to have hidden depths.
Johnny Depp also makes a brief but effective appearance – suggesting we’ll see more of him in subsequent episodes.
At times, the storytelling is a little confusing. Scamander keeps on disappearing into his suitcase and then turning up somewhere altogether new.
The motives of the characters aren’t especially well explained either. It is not initially clear why Tina has been demoted, or what infernal plans the sleek but untrustworthy Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) is hatching.
The behaviour of the No-Maj politicians is likewise hard to fathom. There are references to some ineffable dark force that children can harness; that will burst out in an orgy of violence and then vanish again.
Rather than trying to unpick the narrative, it’s best just to bask in the wondrous performances and the extraordinary craftsmanship.
The recreation of 20s New York here is meticulously detailed. Extreme care has been paid to everything from the costumes to the jazz-era music.
The film is a constant dance between light and dark, between playful knockabout comedy and havoc and destruction.
Five years on from Harry Potter’s last screen outing, Fantastic Beasts could easily have seemed derivative or anticlimactic.
Instead, it’s a thoroughly invigorating affair which only whets our appetites for its sequels. – The Independent