When J.K. Rowling said Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would be the end of the series, that didn’t mean she was finished. This year in particular has been rich in content for fans of the wizard world as the decades-later sequel Harry Potter and the Cursed Boy (written by Jack Thorne with Rowling’s assistance) opened in London’s West End this past summer and now, the first spinoff is in theatres with the screenplay by Ms. Rowling herself.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is the first of a three five-film series set in the land of wizardry and witchcraft, but takes place several generations before Harry Potter in the late 1920s. It’s based off of a book of the same name Rowling wrote under the pen name of fictional character Newt Scamander about magical creatures he studied in the early 20th century that was originally mentioned in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as a required textbook for Harry, Ron and Hermione.
In the film, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York City by boat and stumbles across a public rally led by Mary Lou Redbone (Samantha Morton), a no-maj (American muggle) who leads an anti-witch society. When a creature escapes from Newt’s suitcase and he is caught performing magic in front of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Foglar), he is apprehended by demoted auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and brought to the Magical Congress of the United States of America Headquarters.
From here, we get to see an array of magical creatures, how society was for magic folk in early 20th century America, and the threats they faced from evil. The wonder of Rowling’s wizard universe is just how much can be done with it.
Fantastic Beasts is a return to familiar territory, with David Yates on board as director and even Hedwig’s Theme can be heard at points throughout, but much of the film is new, strange and wonderful – mostly. At times, you can’t help but hope for some connection to the Harry Potter we know and love (they are there), just to make up for what can be an overwhelming journey with new characters, new magic and, since we’re in America, new customs. There’s a lot to take in.
We’re introduced to many rich characters from Redmayne’s awkwardly charming Newt Scamander to Katherine Waterston’s naive and sometimes bumbling Tina with Alison Sudol as her sweet, flirty younger sister Queenie who, assuming her role is reprised in future films, shouldn’t be one to underestimate. Ezra Miller is equally awkward as Credence Barebone, Mary Lou’s mysterious adopted son, and keep an eye out for Gnarlack (Ron Perlman), a goblin gangster! (Yes, a GOBLIN Gangster!)
Fantastic Beasts serves as an introduction to a new series that leaves the door open for a lot to happen in the next films, but efforts to make it its own standalone story is evident – judging by how cleanly it wraps up. There’s enough in the film and in Potter-lore in general to know that the Fantastic Beasts series will rival the original Harry Potter series but I suspect Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them will go down as the weakest of the bunch.