Nutshell: A top-notch, bright & shiny film that manages to put Harry and the gang out of my mind. As these new characters, and their own stories, unspool, director David Yates, J.K. Rowling, and a talented cohesive cast put on a glorious show. Not bad for a film that started out as a sliver of a book. Grade: A-
“Settle down, please. It won’t be long.”
Story: Magizoologist Newton Artemis Fido Scamander (aka “Newt”) and his suitcase full of creatures (#biggerontheinside) arrives in New York City just as the conflict between No-Majs (aka Muggles) and American wizards could hit critical mass. Don’t you hate when that happens?
Genre I’d put it in: Harry Potter Professional Fan-fiction [NOTE: that’s a compliment. I love fan-fiction.]
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Orignal: Based on the book of the same name by J.K. Rowling. If the internets has any truth at all, this is the first film of a projected five film series.
Gotta say: With Yates at the helm, and Rowling writing the screenplay, Fantastic Beasts definitely has a deep connection to the Harry Potter series. From the opening credits, as James Newton Howard’s soundtrack – with its cues from John Williams’ instantly recognizable Harry Potter score – soars over the clouds, to the ending that feels both complete and the start of something new, Fantastic Beasts is firmly in Rowling’s Wizarding World. And it’s glorious.
I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, so let’s just say that while the story is on its face a simple one, there’s more to that ol’ suitcase than meets the eye. And more to the wizards and witches of the USA than window dressing and a new accent. As Newt, Eddy Redmayne is delightfully uneasy in his new surroundings, more comfortable with his creatures than the humans and wizards he meets. He does bond with No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), and fellow magical folk Porpetina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (a delightfully layered Alison Sudol).
There’s whiffs of deeper stories to be had, like Tina’s history with the Magical Congress of the USA (MACUSA), Newt’s time in the Great War, Jacob’s way with pastry… And of course Queenie’s absolutely amazing fashion sense. Another knock out of the park for costume designer Colleen Atwood. As well as everyone who worked in the creature shop; from the yo-yo-esque Swooping Evil (GROOVY) to the fabulous Thunderbird (gorgeous, and is that gold in its plumage?) The creatures in Fantastic Beasts are definitely worth taking a close look at. I’m already looking forward to the Blu-ray extras for this film, in the hopes that there will be a video “encyclopedia” of all the wonderful creatures here.
I’ve talked about the good, now here’s the bad. Er, the baddies. With witches and wizards in the USA, of course there will be witch hunters. And as their leader, Mary Lou, Samantha Morton (Sweet and Lowdown) gives a creepy, understated performance, as does Ezra Miller (The Flash) as the strange misfit, Creedence. The baddies here get a bit of a short shrift, what with all the goings-on elsewhere in the story – yes, Newt does lose a few of his beloved creatures, as anyone who’s watched the trailer knows – and I’d have liked to have gotten a deeper understanding of this group. Perhaps in the next film?
But all in all there’s the beautiful, wonderful world of Rowling. And it’s really something to behold. (I’d give just about anything to get into that suitcase and meet a few of those amazing creatures. Preferably with a baked good or three from Jacob.) So go see one of the most famous Hufflepuffs on record. You know you want to.
#Protip: No, you don’t have to read the book in order to enjoy this film. But if you want to dig in, have at it. Knowledge of the general Potterverse is a good idea, as there are Easter Eggs scattered about for viewers that have their eyes peeled. [Don’t literally peel your eyes. Just keep alert.]