Film review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – J.K. Rowling magic
Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell star in what may seem like a Potter prequel with the same awe and wonder, but it’s self-contained with more adult themes
If there is an expansion spell in J.K. Rowling’s book of incantations, the Harry Potter author has just cast it most elegantly. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first of five spin-off films in her so-called Potter-verse, set a long way from Harry, Hermione and Ron’s days learning wizardry at Hogwarts but fitting perfectly alongside.
Scripted by Rowling – her first such credit – Fantastic Beasts feels like a more adult Potter film, but one that boasts the same sense of awe and wonder.
Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, a former Hogwarts pupil and the (future) author of the eponymous text (published by Rowling as a compendium in 2001). Fantastic Beasts is set before this book, with Newt arriving in New York, circa 1926, with a suitcase full of wild and wonderful creatures after an exploratory globe-trotting expedition.
With magic pushed underground in America, Rowling creates a politicised backdrop immediately – notably via the Samantha Morton-led New Salem Philanthropic Society, campaigning against sorcery.
After Newt collides with Jacob (Dan Fogler), a ‘No-Maj’ (that’s ‘non-magic’) and would-be baker, several of his beasts are accidentally let loose, causing untold carnage. The pair join up with two sibling witches, Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie (Alison Sudol), and this unlikely quartet are sent scurrying across the city to retrieve the creatures, just as a darker, more pernicious force threatens to obliterate all.
Thrown into this cauldron is Colin Farrell’s wizard catcher Percival Graves and an excellent Ezra Miller, as the mysterious-but-key Credence.
David Yates, who directed the final four Harry Potter movies, returns here – and is immediately in command. The level of detail – right down to a House Elf’s gnarled fingers – is astounding. But this is about more than just special effects or craftsmanship. Redmayne is superb in the lead, and there’s real emotion, comedy and romance in his blossoming friendships.
Fantastic Beasts feels like a complete film, rather than a franchise-starter. Harry Potter fans will be delighted to see that J.K. Rowling has not lost her magic touch.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens on November 17
Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook