It’s been five years since our last big screen adventure in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, and when you look back, the Harry Potter movie series as a whole was a great cinematic achievement. Over the course of eight movies, audiences from around the world got invested into the exciting universe that Rowling created in her popular books that helped shape the pop culture zeitgeist of this generation. And for a while, it seemed as if the book was closed on more magical adventures in this world.
Thankfully, audiences will triumphantly return to the Wizarding World once Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in theaters this week. Set 70 years before Harry was born, we follow Hogwarts alum Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a self-proclaimed magizoologist who visits New York with a magical briefcase that happens to contain many magical creatures. Newt only intended to stay for a few hours, but when his briefcase lets these titular beasts free, it’s up to Newt and his new companions Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) to play Wizarding Pokemon throughout New York.
This film is a much different experience for Harry Potter fans, because with the original films, we were already familiar with these characters thanks to the books, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were going to see on the big screen. This time around, we are meeting these newly established characters truly for the first time. Fantastic Beasts is Rowling’s first screenplay, and for a first-time screenwriter, she manages to make all of these new characters charming and memorable in their own way.
Newt Scamander is a much different protagonist compared to the boy who lived. Newt wasn’t the most sociable type, and had quite a connection to magical creatures that he could never find with his fellow humans. Redmayne slides into Rowling’s world perfectly, and he adds such an unconventional charm to Newt that we don’t see often in films of this scale. It helps that he is accompanied by a terrific ensemble that help elevate this adventure. Newt’s new friends are all fun to be around, especially Jacob, a No-Maj (American term for Muggle) who provides much of the endearing comic relief.
Beyond our main heroes, we also meet new characters such Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), a high-ranking Auror, Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), a No-Maj activist against witches and wizards that reaches near-Dolores Umbridge levels of disgust, and Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), Mary Lou’s adopted son that may have a few secrets of his own.
Much of the pure entertainment value of Fantastic Beasts is found when the main quartet goes on the run to find these creatures before it’s too late. While some creature designs stand out more than others, the creativity and imagination truly shines. In particular, Newt’s runaway Niffler and trustworthy Bowtruckle have some of the more memorable moments from the film.
Fantastic Beasts has its faults, which can be attributed to the development of some of the supporting characters. The film could’ve used more development on the Barebone family, because whenever they appeared onscreen (especially Miller’s Credence), I wanted to learn more about their history. Also, with four more films on deck for this spin-off series, one can’t help but feel some of the set-up that this film creates for the upcoming adventures.
Thankfully, while the Warner Bros. film does open the door for the upcoming sequels, it still satisfies on entertainment value and as a standalone story. Director David Yates and Rowling accomplished their goal in introducing a new era and set of characters within the Wizarding World. Once the film ended, I felt excited for what new adventures are in store with these newly established characters.