The wizarding world of Harry Potter takes an adventurous left turn in the prequel spinoff franchise “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the first in a series of films based on the J.K Rowling novel of the same name.
You won’t find Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson or any of the other stars of the eight “Harry Potter” movies within “Fantastic Beasts,” which is set many decades before Potter’s birth in New York City somewhere between World War I and World War II.
Instead this spinoff franchise is led by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, seemingly the Jack Hanna for sorcerers who is currently researching for a textbook on the world’s most magical creatures. A series of unfortunate events leads to the opening of his suitcase, releasing a number of these fantastic beasts out across the city.
A tad off-putting at first, Redmayne is the perfect choice for Scamander once viewers get to learn more about the character. Scamander is equal parts daring and shy, a loner both by design and circumstance who tries not to let his eccentric habits define him. It’s Redmayne’s most light-hearted performance to date and the best possible use of his talents in a major film franchise.
Katherine Waterston continues her rise up the acting ladder with her first leading turn in a large scale feature film as Tina, an employee for New York’s magical police who aides Scamander in finding all of his freed creatures. Her performance is less quirky than one might expect from a mature woman in the “Harry Potter” universe as nearly all the female witches in the previous eight films were significantly more out there as characters. But Waterston does a fine job balancing out Redmayne scene to scene.
Veteran character actor Colin Farrell is solid, yet unspectacular as lead magical investigator Percival Graves, while rising star Ezra Miller offers the film’s best supporting performance as a peculiar and often mistreated boy holding in some deep secrets.
The real stars of the show are the beasts themselves, incredibly unique from animal to animal and expertly designed and created through computer generated images. It would be one thing for a single beast to dominate the show – whether it be the massive half-rhino, half-hippo or the platypus with a pension to steal shiny objects – but each and every single one of the dozens of creatures viewers encounter over the course of two hours is an absolute highlight. Moments featuring the beasts themselves are the highlights of the film and there simply aren’t enough of them.
Director David Yates, who helmed the final four installments of the “Harry Potter” franchise, brings much needed cinematic continuity to this prequel adventure. Yates imbues his latest film with a fantastic combination of the light-hearted wonder of Chris Columbus’ early Potter films – “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets” – and more mature, frightening elements from Yates’ own “Deathly Hallows” films.
“Fantastic Beasts” is probably much too scary in parts for younger audiences, especially those who aren’t yet old enough for the final three “Harry Potter” films. There’s plenty of dark magic in “Fantastic Beasts,” things that go bump in the night and scenes of child abuse with a belt that are unfortunately necessary to the plot. Parents need to take caution before allowing their child to see this film.
That being said, “Fantastic Beasts” is a wonderful blend of the things that made “Harry Potter” one of the most dominant film franchises over the last decade and should ensure magical escapades on the big screen for years to come.
“Harry Potter” fans should rejoice as “Fantastic Beasts” totally lives up to its name cinematically and is a must see in theaters.