Five years ago, myself and some friends made our way to the local cinema at about 10:30pm, slurpees in one hand, Harry Potter books in the other. We waited in line for over an hour, surrounded by people dressed in costumes, watching a Dumbledore duel a Snape, and when we finally sat down in the full theatre at midnight, when the logo came up and that iconic music played, we all thought it was the beginning of the end for the Harry Potter film franchise. And then, two years after that, a new film was announced: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, based on the Hogwarts textbook by Newt Scamander, one of a recently announced five film franchise. Love it or hate it, we were going back to the Wizarding World. Thank God they gave us a great welcome back.
Set in the magical world of 1920s New York, Fantastic Beasts focuses on the aforementioned Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an eccentric British magizoologist who, after a handful of creatures escape from his suitcase, must track down his creatures and evade MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States) with the help of some unlikely friends, as a sinister plot to reveal magic to Muggles brews under the surface.
Despite being set 70 years prior, Fantastic Beasts takes us back right where we left off, with JK Rowling’s Wizarding World feeling just as magical as the first time. Of course, there’s the obvious stuff, like gripping duels and fabulous architecture, house elves and goblins and potions that can kill you; with Fantastic Beasts having a mostly adult cast, this ain’t no charms class, and there are brilliant skills and real stakes at play as some of the most powerful wizards and witches battle across New York. There are enormous, magnificent sets that demand to be taken in and beautiful CGI beasts which are sure to spawn merchandise, but it’s the little stuff, like secret entrances, moving portraits and sentient clothes lines, that call back to the magical world we know so well add that extra layer of wonder that touches our imagination.
And then, of course, there’s the titular beasts that Newt sets off to find: giant rhinoceros-like beasts trapped in Central Park and invisible little buggers illicit laughs, whilst living tree branches cue the cuteness, and a mighty Thunderbird is awe-inspiring as it soars across the New York cityscape. There are more beasts than we could’ve imagined, and as we learn more of his creatures, we learn more of the man who loves them: Newt is a quiet, awkward fellow, thrown out of Hogwarts in his teens (something to do with creatures, no doubt), and having travelled the world looking for and caring for magical creatures, in his pursuit to write a handbook for how to protect them. Self described as “I annoy people”, Newt’s passion for his creatures shines through this hard exterior, and his love for them is even more infectious as the film progresses.
But for all the charm and fun hijinks of Newt’s beastly tour of New York, there is a darkness. Famous in Harry Potter lore for attempting to bring wizardkind out of hiding, Gellert Grindelwald is at large; mysterious MACUSA officials are tracking a rare dark force that’s terrorising the city and leaving a trail of bodies, and a group of No-Majs known as Second Salemers are campaigning for another witch hunt to bring an end to the panic sweeping New York, led by the terrifying Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). It seems the series is only going to get darker from here, yet that never distracts from the lighter scenes, much of which is due to the high calibre of a cast that pulls of both tones with ease.
A cast which could not be better: Eddie Redmayne’s Newt is quirky and adorable, an layered performance that both suits the character’s shy nature and suggests more to come in later films. His No-Maj sidekick is newcomer Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski, our comic relief but also a genuinely sweet, enjoyable character. Sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein (Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol) couldn’t be more different – one is a MACUSA pencil-pusher, the other a telepathic waitress – yet the strength of their love and friendship for each other is up there with their bravery and wit, and this foursome have incredible chemistry that it will be a joy to accompany over the next few films. Ezra Miller also gives an intense performance as No-Maj Credence, but it is Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves who is the most menacing and interesting – if only his character was written better.
It’s only been five years since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, and yet it feels like I’ve been waiting for a film like Fantastic Beasts for much longer. As a film, it ticks a lot of the important boxes to make it good – brilliant cast, lovable characters, great script and visuals, complete story but sequel intrigue – but as a fan, this film is like returning home, and, though remodelled, it’s good to be back.
Here’s my top five favourite films starring the cast of Fantastic Beasts:
- The Theory of Everything – Eddie Redmayne
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Ezra Miller
- Scrubs – Colin Farrell
- Trainwreck – Ezra Miller
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – David Yates
Photos taken from IMDb.com: