It’s been five years since audiences bid adieu to Harry Potter and friends in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and little has happened to dampen the love for the wizarding world author J.K. Rowling created. This year already brought the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which picks up when Harry is an adult, and now Rowling’s world expands even further with the spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Beasts moves the action away from England to New York City, circa 1926. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), author of Beasts (a book Harry later studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry) has arrived with a case full of magical creatures as a panic rises from attacks all over the world by the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald. A mix-up with a Muggle, or No-Maj as they’re known in America, leads to some of the creatures escaping, drawing the ire of the Magical Congress of the United States of America, which is the U.S. version of England’s Ministry of Magic, especially Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and Percival Graves (Colin Farrell).
Redmayne makes for a fantastic Scamander, a soft-spoken, reluctant hero more comfortable with beasts than humans. Those moments with the “fantastic beasts” are some of the best in the film.
While the first film in the Potter world without a novel to draw material from (Scamander’s book doesn’t count), Beasts does boast a screenplay by Rowling, her first. The stakes aren’t as high – so far – as in the Potter films, making Beasts feel sort of like The Hobbit in a way. The movie sometimes struggles to cram every idea in, getting a little lost in establishing the less tolerant wizarding community in America. Considering Beasts is the first of five intended films, it makes sense to get the heavy lifting out of the way.
It’s great to get back into the world of Harry Potter, even if he, Ron and Hermione are nowhere to be found. There are Easter eggs all throughout Beasts for the avid Potter fan and seeing a different era of that universe is more than welcome, even if the New York in the film is more J.K. Rowling’s idea of New York in 1926 than what the city was really like. All of the women have bobs, the police are well-dressed, streetlights have an extra glow to them … it all feels a tad nostalgic and artificial.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a welcome return to the wizarding world of Harry Potter, and one of the more optimistic films in the series. It would’ve been better if less time were spent on getting reacquainted with everything and more on pushing the story forward, but the promise of future Beasts installments is, to be perfectly cheesy, fantastic.