It has been five years since the last Harry Potter film hit theaters and it appears the fervor for Potter never really went away. Fans have always clamored for more and J.K. Rowling has been happy to oblige. The first act of appeasement was with the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage play and now the famed author makes her screenwriting debut with a full blown spin-off titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows the Charles Darwin of the magical world, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), as he arrives in NYC in 1926. He just wrapped up his large excursion around the world to find, document and learn about magical creatures, many of which are being killed off for being misunderstood, when things take a turn for the worse. While in NY, a no-maj (aka muggle), manages to witness one of Newt’s creatures escapes and then avoids having his mind wiped. In doing so, Newt’s magical case gets switched accidentally and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) ends up setting free a handful of creatures in NY. As that happens, Newt is being harassed by Tina (Katherine Waterston) a demoted wizard agent who keeps delaying the capture of his creatures. The longer the creatures are out, the more chaos is bound to unravel for both the wizarding and no-maj world and who know what might happen then.
David Yates, the man who directed the more mature Harry Potter films, returns to the magical universe in the director’s chair, utilizing the same mature sensibilities and fun from the latter Potter films and applying them to the spin-off so as to start this new spin-off franchise on the right foot, and he does so in stride. Fantastic Beasts is a joy to watch and pure entertainment bliss. It’s funny, intense, chock full of adventure and manages to open Rowling’s magical world even further, opening our eyes to a different time and culture, something we haven’t really been immersed in yet.
Rowling has done a wonderful job transitioning from the page to screen as she takes her new protagonist forward, making him unique in comparison to all the characters we know of thus far. One of my friends made an excellent point, that she was able to avoid trapping herself in her own literary box, as the main characters in this film aren’t the “such-and-such” equivalent to the original core characters. Newt is not the Harry Potter of the group just like Kowalski isn’t the Ron. This is the key item that truly separates Fantastic Beasts from Harry Potter and that’s why we can easily say it isn’t a Harry Potter film. It has the elements and touches, but it’s never a Potter film and the ability to distance itself a bit is why the film ends up being so good.
I’d like to try and keep everything a surprise for the viewers so I’m going to generalize the remaining aspects of the film. The effects are excellent and are on par with what our expectations. The creature designs are terrific and really allow for a sense of awe for all parties involved. It’s fun to see the different traits of these unique beasts and how they adapt to city life while they’re out and about. Newt’s little jewelry stealing platypus-like creature was hilarious. The acting was spot on even if certain characters were annoying. Colin Farrell was a solid villain who proved to be a more discrete and enjoyable adversary while Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone was spot on creepy and very much someone you felt empathy for. The remaining leads were all on point as the focal characters of the film, allowing us an opportunity to just get lost in the film as we trusted them to hold up their portion of the film.
Overall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is going to slay the box office this weekend not just because of its Harry Potter connection, but because the film itself is a highly enjoyable adventure that lives up to expectations. Between its talented cast, jubilant yet intense script, and visuals that will keep you highly engaged, this is the (non-comic book) blockbuster people have been waiting for this year.