Harry Potter’s wonderful world of wizardry stretches way past the doors of Hogwarts. Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them is the first of many Harry Potter “prequels” set to hit theaters over the next few years.
Set in 1926, the story follows the adventures of a writer named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who is visiting New York. Newt isn’t traveling alone; he’s carrying a suitcase full of magical creatures. After running into a Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a down on his luck factory worker with dreams of owning a bakery, Newt and Jacob accidentally switch briefcases. Jacob accidentally opens the case and releases some of Newt’s beast into the city.
Meanwhile Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) and her fellow “Salemers” are preaching their anti witch doctrine. They believe recent unexplained events are because of witch activity in the city.
Newt must find his creatures and deal with the mysterious magical incidents that are terrorizing the city.
It’s unclear how long this series will last, what is clear is Eddie Redmayne is the perfect lead for it. Redmayne transforms himself into an introverted, awkward wizard who has an affinity for creatures. He gives a very subtle yet strong performance that’s full of energy. It helps that he’s believable. It never feels like you’re watching Eddie Redmayne play a wizard, you’re being introduced to Newt.
Opposite Redmayne is Katherine Waterston who plays Tina. Waterston is delightful, almost like she was plucked right out of the 1920’s. The two have great chemistry together and play well off each other during the comedic scenes.
As great as those two are, Colin Farrell steals the show as Percival Graves, the director of magical security. Farrell had his moment as Hollywood’s pretty boy leading man. Over the past few years, he’s found his groove in gritty, hardnosed roles. Colin Farrell should continue playing the guy you’re not sure the protagonist can trust – Graves is right in Farrell’s wheelhouse, making Graves the best cast character outside of Newt. There’s something about Farrell’s slick back hair and brooding eyes that makes it feel like he’d steal money out of your wallet or date your mom. Or both.
As far as the “beast” in Fantastic Beast, they’re more fascinating than fantastic. Some of the beast looked close to animals on earth but with a few minor (and some major) changes. One of the film’s best sequences is when Newt introduces Jacob to his entire beast collection. It’s the best visual sequence in the film and gets to the heart of who Newt is.
Most of the film is light and fun, but there’s a section in the middle that’s really dark. Credence’s (Ezra Miller) story line is very dark and maybe a little too dark for younger kids.
The visual effects are really good. At times, things move around the screen a little too quick, but director David Yates does a good job of keeping all the important stuff in frame. Fantastic Beast isn’t Harry Potter. Like Potter, it has the ability to transport audiences to a fictional world of magic that feels real. It is a new chapter in the Potter world with endless possibilities. Comparing Fantastic Beast to Potter is high standard. The film doesn’t get there, but it looks like they’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible in this world.