The Harry Potter series was a huge success both critically and commercially for author J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros., and with the release of the new spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it seems that there’s still plenty of mystery and excitement left in Rowling’s fantasy world.
For those who loved the adventures of Harry Potter and were hungry for a new magical journey, Fantastic Beasts more than lives up to any high expectations set by the previous books and films. This new film offers the chance to flesh out the Potterverse further and create different heroes and threats for new and returning audiences to enjoy.
While the film inserts plenty of familiar Potter elements into its story, the different setting and time period from the original Harry Potter films means there’s more freedom to explore new themes and locations. For fans of the Potter universe, this allows insight into parts of the world that had only ever been hinted at. We see the American version of the Ministry of Magic, for example, and find out what their laws are for magic users. Add to that a plot that hints at a dire threat to the world and it all adds up to an enticing atmosphere for both Potter fans and novices alike.
One of the biggest challenges for the movie is getting Potter fans invested in a whole new set of characters. The film is set in the 1920s and follows the adventures of Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, who studies magical creatures. Redmayne delivers a brilliant performance as Scamander, a character who was only ever known as an author of one of the books the children in Hogwarts had to read in the previous film series. Scamander has a bit of quirkiness to him with the way he carries himself and talks to others. Scamander’s not a big, burly action lead, but the character is indeed a hero, putting his life at risk in order to protect others, even those he barely knows. Those include Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Porpentina (Katherine Waterston), who join Scamander as he tries to locate and care for beasts that have escaped his magical suitcase. The rest of the cast also give great performances, with the likes of Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, and Alison Sudol, all doing their bit to wonderfully expand this corner of the Potterverse thanks to their varied cast of characters.
Even at a running time of more than two hours, Fantastic Beasts always feels like it’s moving along at a brisk pace. The premise is quickly set up, so much so that some elements feel a little too convenient and were only there to get the film moving. This is a movie you’ll want to watch again, with plenty of details disclosed in each scene but not enough time to fully digest them before being whisked to the next. Potter fans in particular will find themselves scouring the backgrounds of different scenes looking for links to the previous films.
The visuals are spectacular, for the most part. The beasts and locations look fantastic, but some scenes may look a little too CGI. Regardless, you’ll easily become immersed in the sheer magic of the different beasts, with the distinct personalities of each creature along with the caring way Redmayne deals with them making them all feel real. The Niffler has a tendency to steal objects during the movie and will likely become a favorite for audiences, while the Bowtruckle has a slight resemblance to Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy and will also win you over with his shy personality and relationship with Newt.
The film’s music is also impressive, with composer James Newton Howard pulling you into the world from the first note during the opening credits. The score is new, but also has the right amount of familiar elements to the previous soundtracks. It sounds like a Harry Potter soundtrack without simply repeating the musical scores we’ve heard before.
The only area really lacking in this installment is the villain. In the other Potter films, there was the constant, underlying danger of the dark wizard Voldemort (along with those that followed him). Voldemort was a serious, credible threat, and the dangers he presented were abundantly clear. The “bad guy” here isn’t fully explored. You get the impression he has darker intentions, but it’s not fully explained. The performance is good, but you immediately get a sense of the path the character is headed as soon as he appears on screen. As the first film in a new series, some moments felt packed with different plot elements as there is the task of setting up the bigger picture of the overall story.
If you feared you’d seen the last of the Potterverse in 2011’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, that isn’t the case. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them offers a strong beginning to the latest series in the world J.K. Rowling created. It’s a thrilling and entertaining adventure that also sets up future sequels.