By Thomas Simpson
When a film series rakes in several billion dollars at the box office, it’s little wonder the film studio at the helm would be reluctant to let it end. The Harry Potter films were, of course, adapted from JK Rowling’s hugely popular books about the titular boy wizard. No more books surely meant no more films, in theory at least.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is inspired by the book of the same name, written by Rowling as an accompaniment to the Harry Potter universe. You’d be forgiven for viewing the film as a cynical cash in but with a script written by Rowling herself and David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter films, back in the chair there was enough reason to get excited.
Set in 1926, British wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures. It doesn’t take long for a few of his animals to escape and run riot however there is something more sinister prowling the streets. A malevolent force is wreaking havoc which threatens to expose the wizarding world and endanger their masquerade.
From the opening title it’s clear that Warner Bros. aren’t looking to distance Fantastic Beasts far from the world of Hogwarts. James Newton Howard composes an original score for the film but incorporates allusions to John William’s work which helps bridge the familiarity. There’s wonderful nods of recent nostalgia within yet Howard is giving enough reign to put his own mark on the music.
The script itself contains a few nods for fans but Fantastic Beasts isn’t a pale imitation to previous work. It’s a wonderful story that serves as an extension to the Harry Potter films while setting up a series of its own. The resulting film is a glorious journey of magic and adventure that will appeal to both old fans and new. The screenplay is witty and full of humor while not subtle on its political themes of racism and persecution. Despite the underlying themes, Rowling isn’t preaching here and although the third act is as dark as the franchise has gotten, you’ll be leaving the cinema with a smile.
The set pieces are spectacular as Yates masterfully constructs comical routines and magnificent destruction from one scene to the next, keeping the contrasting tones from merging into a confused mess. Redmayne’s awkward and adorable Scamander is a joy to watch as he bumbles around New York like the fish out of water he is. Yates keeps Scamander’s nascent romance with disgraced Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) reigned in, not allowing it to blossom too much knowing there’s many more films to come.
There were those that sneered when Warner Bros. announced that the series would be the first of five films. By the time the credits roll you’ll be thirsty for more. There’s a whole world ready to be explored in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with enough full of fun and excitement. Harry Potter may be gone but the spirit thrives.
Thomas Simpson is a writer and filmmaker based in Glasgow, U.K. Find him on Twitter: @Simmy41.