If you’re a fan of the Harry Potter series, the mere announcement of Fantastic Beasts likely got your knickers in a twist. If you’re a die-hard fan, you may also be feeling a slight twinge of apprehension. After all, could it ever be as good as the previous eight films? The good news is, you have nothing to fear. Fantastic Beasts is a solid start to a new wizarding franchise.
In 1926, a mysterious entity is raging through the streets of New York City, destroying everything in its path and risking exposure of the magical community. Unaware of the danger, Magizoologist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), arrives with a travel case full of magical creatures. A mishap involving a No-Maj (American for Muggle) sets a few of the creatures loose and Newt must recapture them quickly. Newt is aided by his new No-Mag friend, Jacob (Dan Folger), former Auror, Tina (Katherine Waterston), and Tina’s mind-reading sister, Queen (Alison Sudol).
To make things more complicated, a group called the Second Salemers, led by the abusive Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), are starting a witch hunt, putting all magical people on alert.
Fantastic Beasts feels like two movies that merge a bit awkwardly during the very busy third act. Newt is a charming and engaging character, albeit more than a tad eccentric, and his efforts to track down his escaped animals are light-hearted and funny. The other, much darker, story involves the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), their fight against the Second Salemers, and shady Percival Graves’ (Colin Farrell) attempt to find the source of the destructive entity.
Although this takes place in another time, the dark themes are eerily modern. The way the magical community operates in the United States is vastly different than in the UK. Magical people have to hide and are not allowed to fraternize with the non-magical. They are, however, somewhat progressive in that they have a woman President.
For those hoping to see familiar locations and faces, sorry, but Fantastic Beasts is its own entity. Of course, Hogwarts and Dumbledore are mentioned, as well as some family names that true Potter fans will immediately recognize. Beasts introduces us to a whole new cast of interesting and multi-dimensional characters, and the performances are superb.
The visual effects are, for lack of a better word, fantastic. Naturally, this being a magical world, there is a tremendous amount of CG, but it never seems cheap and blends seamlessly. From a design standpoint, the costumes, hair and makeup, and the 1920s NYC backdrop leaves you wishing you could apparate into the film.
The film leaves you wanting more Newt adventures and that’s just what we’re going to get with four more films in the works. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens 17th November (Australia), 18th November (USA) & (UK).