For fans of Harry Potter, there was trepidation in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Though written by J. K. Rowling and essentially just a prequel, the loss of the main cast and setting, combined with multiple hang ups from the theatrical text, The Cursed Child, left many wondering if perhaps it was time to focus on the original books.
Fear not wizarding fans, for Fantastic Beasts is truly fantastic. Rowling worked with a team of writers on The Cursed Child, but is the sole credited writer for Fantastic Beasts and it shows. Her blending of characters to form beautiful families, her tragic and elegant style and of course great creatures make for an instant classic.
David Yates, who also directed Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and both Deathly Hallows films, returns with this solid opening to this new franchise. There is an overwhelming number of characters, props, and beasts, with a heavy significance to past books and future movies. Yates takes it all in stride guiding the viewer through the information, almost perfectly. He has signed on for the next five films.
This film is packed with tons of talent who will soon be household names. A turn against the cantankerous adventure movies being shoved down consumers throats, Rowling and Yates choose instead to prominently display tempered heroes.
Eddie Redmayne is perfectly cast as Newt Scamander. His effeminate silence and big eyes make for a male hero we don’t often get to see. It his giant heart and gentle nature that helps him see solutions where others seek destruction.
Ezra Miller continues his long stream of great roles as the horrendously abused Credence Barebone. Miller is often called on to use his dark and brooding side, but here there’s a tangible desire to be loved underneath the darkness.
Katherine Waterston excels opposite Redmayne as Tina. Waterson is one of those actresses who are thrilling to watch, who’s face is seen everywhere, but whose name is not easily found. That tide will have to change after this film. Wrapped in quiet desperation for truth, this female detective avoids all of the noir tropes that would have been easy to use in a 30’s mystery. Instead of sex and misdirection, Waterson exudes warmth and passion. She is a joy to watch.
As a sucker for love however, I was enthralled with two supporting roles. That of Alison Sudol as Queenie and Dan Fogler as Kowalski.
Fogler is a Tony Award Winning Actor, but most people know him for his lead role in Balls of Fury. Kowalski is the way into the story for the viewers. A muggle trying to get a loan for a bakery his world is shaken when his briefcase is mixed up with Newt’s magical briefcase. Fogler manages to be both comic relief and the heart of the film. His performance is a mix of a sad clown and optimistic best friend. Try not to smile when he’s on screen it’s impossible.
Sudol is breathtakingly beautiful and it would have been easy for her to lay on that beauty, but Rowling does not waste women. Instead, Queenie is allowed to be the perfect companion for Tina and Kowalski. Her bright can-do spirit and deep love are intoxicating. She’s luminates like a sunbeam on screen.
There are a few concerns with the film. The speed at which new knowledge has to be consumed can be a little daunting. More than once I got two of the beasts confused, just because there are so many. So for non-readers and perhaps filmgoers not familiar with Harry Potter canon, this material may be a bit difficult to grasp at times.
Overall this new leg is promising. For fans of the original Harry Potter books, it should be rather thrilling to explore this new narrative. It’s strange not to know the outcome before entering the theater with a Rowling property but also exciting. It took me back to the time I spent under the covers reading way past bedtime. My heart stopped when wands are pulled out and when first kisses are finally landed.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an excellent adventure story that fans and non-fans alike can enjoy.