It had been five years, four months and two days. 1,952 days I waited patiently for the moment another film set in Harry Potter’s world would be released. On Nov. 17, 2016, that day finally came. Potter fans have counted down the days to “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” since the announcement of its release date in May 2014. Because all eight “Harry Potter” movies are revered by critics and fans alike, this movie would really have to be something special.
If you were wondering what “Fantastic Beasts” has to do with Harry, wonder no more. In the “Harry Potter” series, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was an informational textbook by famed magic creature expert Newt Scamander. Potter fans who’ve read the books and seen the movies multiple times, might remember the book was required reading for Harry in his first year at Hogwarts. In 2001, J.K. Rowling, under Newt’s name, made the fictional textbook into a 128 page book available to us Muggles, giving us a better understanding of the Wizarding World and the creatures which reside in it.
“Fantastic Beasts” marks the Wizarding World’s first attempt at the extended universe craze every major film studio is trying to capitalize on nowadays. Although it is set roughly 70 years before “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” it is not a prequel like “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” but rather a more in-depth look at the Wizarding World itself. The new film proves Rowling’s universe to be more expansive than critics and moviegoers could imagine.
“Fantastic Beasts” transports the audience to New York City in 1926, a time when wizards and witches were feared by non-magical people. The hero of the story is British oddball Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a magizoologist with a suitcase of mischievous beasts. Newt comes by boat to the United States to procure a rare magical creature, but runs into trouble when he comes in contact with a No-Maj (the American term for a Muggle or non-magical person) and Tina Goldstein, a Magical Congress employee. After a suitcase mixup, Jacob the bumbling No-Maj accidentally releases some of Newt’s creatures into the city. Newt and his new friends run around the city trying to catch the beasts, all while a mysterious, much less light-hearted underlying plot unfolds.
The underlying plot about infamous dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald’s disappearance is Wizard-History in the making. A shady employee of the Magical Congress called Graves (Colin Farrell) is shown secretly working with a young man called Credence (Ezra Miller) whose mother is determined to see witchcraft exposed in a “second Salem.” Colin Farrell is appropriately cold as ice as bad guy Graves, while Ezra Miller’s performance is constipated and two-dimensional, making his character impossible to sympathize with. However, the climax, which heavily depends on this plot, brings each character’s true motive to light in an exciting and unexpected way, setting up the story for the next four films.
Arguably the best part is the undeniably talented Oscar winning actor, Eddie Redmayne’s, performance in “Fantastic Beasts” as Newt Scamander, a shy but kind adventurer with a love of magical creatures rivaled only by Rubeus Hagrid. The British actor adds layers to a character that, had the role been given to another actor, could so easily have been a goofy, irritating caricature. Rowling’s utterly endearing character captivates the viewer with his contagious smile and selfless nature, flawlessly embodying every positive attribute a Hufflepuff should possess. Yes, a Hufflepuff. The hero of our movie is a proud member of the often berated Hufflepuff house. Clever as a Ravenclaw, brave as a Gryffindor, resourceful as a Slytherin and loyal as a Hufflepuff, it’s hard not to fall in love with Newt Scamander.
“Fantastic Beasts” takes the time to establish wizarding life in 1920s New York beautifully. As usual, Rowling and company have fleshed out a world so intricate and full of life, that it becomes a sort of second home to its’ viewers. The film’s themes of hope, tolerance and makeshift families make it a wonderful companion to the “Harry Potter” films. Fantastically silly at times and gravely serious at others, “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” recaptures the magic of the “Potter” films in a fresh, yet still nostalgia-inducing tale worthy of the name of wizard.