It’s a tough act to follow: 8 Harry Potter films and a best-selling book series that almost everyone has experienced in one form or another. JK Rowling has already announced that the prequels will continue, introducing new characters as well as those that we are familiar with.
Eddie Redmayne takes centre stage, his Newt Scamander appearing as a bumbling but entirely well-meaning wizard who is on a personal errand to New York, fresh out of Hogwarts.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in 1926 as Newt Scamander (Redmayne) has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. He arrives in New York for a brief stopover, which might have come and gone without incident were it not for a ‘No-Maj’ (American for Muggle) named Jacob (Dan Fogler), a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them also stars Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs, Inherent Vice) as Tina; Dan Fogler as Jacob; Alison Sudol (Dig, Transparent) as Tina’s sister, Queenie; Ezra Miller (Trainwreck) as Credence; two-time Oscar nominee Samantha Morton (In America, Sweet and Lowdown) as Mary Lou; Oscar winner Jon Voight (Coming Home, Ray Donovan) as Henry Shaw, Sr.; Ron Perlman (Hellboy) as Gnarlack; Carmen Ejogo (Selma) as Seraphina; Jenn Murray (Brooklyn) as Chastity; young newcomer Faith Wood-Blagrove as Modesty; and Colin Farrell (True Detective) as Percival Graves.
Rowling has taken a more hands on approach this time around. While previously the Harry Potter author stepped back from the movie versions of her stories, this time there is a real sense of empathy with all the main characters.
Scamander is full of all the ‘Redmayne-isms’ one might expect, from stilted delivery to a shy quality that makes him endearing even when he is waving around his wand, casting spells that partially destroy the city. His fish-out-of-water essence is just what we need to instantly immerse ourselves in the story, and its also the function of the more comical sidekick played by Fogler.
A real surprise is Alison Sudol. Her performance feels so authentically 1920’s New York that you often wonder if she wrapped a days shoot by waving goodbye to the cast and casually crooning the night away in a speakeasy somewhere in lower Manhattan. The sets also feel utterly convincing, which comes as a great surprise given that the cast told us most of the locations were actually recreated in sunny Watford, just outside of London.
The plot does tend to revert to a few repetitive sequences of beasts attacking the city – the characters spend much of the film following them in an attempt to cover up the magical world that is at odds with the Muggle view of things. The ministry, just as in the Potter films, serves as a device to explain away any peculiarities we may be struggling with in the midst of all the sorcery, but thankfully Colin Farrell’s brooding enforcer soon livens up proceedings.
In the end – and there is a big reveal that has been partially spoiled by recent news surrounding the following films – the message the film is intent on delivering comes across well. This is the film a post-Trump world needs, and Rowling doesn’t sugarcoat it for her audience.
There are some terrifying moments, more so that one might expect, and younger viewers may well be turned off by some of these. But there is more than enough here to warrant further exploration for both hardened fans and newcomers alike.
In short, this is one 2016 blockbuster that matches up to the hype.
‘Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them’ will be on general release from November 18