Movie review: A brave new wizarding world in ‘Fantastic Beasts’
–After eight films and a decade at the box office, the “Harry Potter” franchise drew to a close. In the five years since that time, interest in the wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling hasn’t diminished. So it makes sense that it would make its way back to theaters in some way.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” isn’t Harry Potter, but it’s definitely an entry point into the world that has created millions of fans around the world. Based on the original screenplay from Rowling and directed by “Potter” veteran David Yates, the film introduces a new group of characters, a new setting and kicks off a new set of adventures.
This time the action moves from a wizarding academy in England to the magical congress in New York City in the 1920s. It follows the adventures of Newt Scamander as he collects the knowledge to write the textbook that serves as course material for Harry Potter and his classmates.
The film kicks off as Newt (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a magical case full of creatures. It’s a tense time in New York, as the American magical authorities struggle to keep the world from finding out about the magical realm. An activist named Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) is railing against the magical threat, meanwhile strange events are happening throughout the city that threaten to expose everything.
Newt is on a mission when he meets a non-magical resident, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who is trying to get a loan to start a bakery. Soon, Jacob gets pulled into Newt’s world when one of his magical creatures escapes.
The whole incident draws the attention of Tina (Katherine Waterston), an employee of the American Magical Congress. She brings Newt in to answer some questions, but her concerns are dismissed by the President, Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo), and her top investigator, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).
Hoping to prevent an incident, Tina instead teams with Newt, Jacob and her sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), to re-capture all of Newt’s magical creatures before it’s too late.
Meanwhile Graves is involved in a plot to find a dangerous magician, using Mary Lou’s adopted son, Credence (Ezra Miller), as a spy. But Credence might be hiding a secret of his own.
There was a great weight of expectation for this project. The Harry Potter universe is incredibly popular and iconic. Though this isn’t Harry Potter, it’s an expansion of the universe and the start of something new. And in addition to bearing the weight of an incredibly successful franchise, this film has to introduce a whole new set of characters and a new story arc. The film is successful in that sense.
Yates, who directed the final four films in the Potter franchise, has a good feel for these types of movies. He does a nice job of building this new world and capturing a different time period and setting.
This film has a good cast, too. Redmayne is an Academy Award winner, and sinks into this interesting part. One complaint I’ve read is that his character is so withdrawn socially it mutes some of Redmayne’s natural charisma, but I thought he did a nice job portraying the part.
The supporting cast is good, too. I enjoyed Farrell in his role, and Waterston as Tina. Sudol has great personality as Queenie and Miller was sufficiently strange and creepy as Credence. But perhaps my favorite was Fogler, who is playing an interesting character, something you wouldn’t expect as Jacob.
I also enjoyed the period setting here, too. And I think there’s plenty potential with these characters and these stories.
But this is far from a perfect film. Because there is so much work that has to be done for world building, “Fantastic Beasts” is slow to get started and a bit dry at times. In addition, it feels a little too reliant on special effects and big action pieces. The best moments of the film are the personal interactions and light-hearted moments between the core characters. That’s something I hope they build on in future installments.
This is a film franchise that will be with us for some time as it’s rumored there are four sequels to come. For those who are fans of the wizarding world, that’s good news.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some fantasy action violence.
Three stars out of four.