J.K. Rowling expands the Harry Potter universe with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Her new hero is a character oft-mentioned in the books, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a Magizoologist; someone who takes care of and is an expert in magical creatures. David Yates, having directed the last four Potter films, provides a seamless transition into the new franchise. The film will absolutely delight Rowling's ardent fans. Audiences who aren't into fantasy or are unaware of Rowling's vernacular may get lost.
Set in 1926, Newt Scamander arrives in New York City with a suitcase filled with magical creatures. He gets into a slight mix up with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a No-Maj, ordinary human without magical powers. Muggles was the previous term used, but we find out there are many differences between witches in Europe and America. Scamander's beasts run amok at a dangerous time. A deadly, mysterious entity threatens to reveal the magical world. Scamander must get to the truth of what's happening or become the scapegoat that takes the fall.
There is a great deal of familiarity walking in because of the previous movies and books. That said; it's also a detriment. The books inspired your imagination and promoted intrigue for the films. Fantastic Beasts has no direct source material, so while the characters are new to audiences, it just doesn't have the same appeal. The plot is interesting, moves quickly, and is loaded with exceptional special effects. But I certainly didn't experience a sense of wonder.
Dan Fogler steals the film completely from Eddie Redmayne. Scamander is portrayed as sheepish and timid. I assume we'll dig into his back story in the upcoming films, but he isn't that interesting of a character. Fogler on the other hand is a riot. He's the neophyte experiencing the magical world for the first time. His reactions are very humorous and touching. Fogler and Redmayne share a lot of screen time. Fogler balances the avalanche of wizardry with great appeal.
Fantastic Beasts is more in vein of the last two Harry Potter films. It's darker, loaded with action, not as focused on exploration. The film does drop a nugget here and there as a nod to future installments. Warner Bros. has slated five more films over the next ten years. They are counting on Rowling's fan base. I have no doubt it will be a massive success and then in turn spin off more franchises. The Potter universe has had its big bang and is expanding.
As a devout Potter fan, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was enjoyable. It's not a great film, but delivers the goods that I expected. My primary issue is that Scamander always has the perfect animal to get him out of a fix. It's entirely contrived, but thankfully not a deal breaker. Fogler, Collin Farrell as Percival Graves, and Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein are the outstanding players. I sincerely hope that Newt Scamander becomes more developed in the sequel. He does not have the charm or gravitas of Harry Potter, but Warner Bros. does have a worthy new franchise on their hands.