Written by J.T. Johnson
I must admit that when I went to see “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”, I went in with a certain level of caution. Studios have tried to capitalize on film franchises long after their expiration date with mixed results. “The Hobbit” trilogy pales in comparison to “Lord of the Rings”, “Hannibal Rising” was a complete disaster, and there have been several attempts at Jim Carrey sequels that somehow don’t star Jim Carrey.
My biggest fear was that “Fantastic Beasts” would end up being just a simple cash grab. Thankfully, this is one film that had a lot going for it. First off, David Yates returned to direct the new movie and then they got J.K. Rowling herself to write the screenplay. The final piece of the puzzle was to get a cast that would successfully bring you back into the Wizarding World and make you forget that there wasn’t a certain boy wizard to be found anywhere in the movie.
In the new story, wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) comes to the United States with a suitcase full of magical creatures. Once some of the beasts escape, Newt has to use magic in front of No-Majs (the American word for Muggles) and is captured by Tina (Katherine Waterston), a former Auror. Caught in the middle of all of this is Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a No-Maj who just happens to run into Newt at the wrong time.
The movie introduces us to the American side of magic. The witches and wizards here have strict rules against interacting with the No-Maj, something that Newt finds to be backward thinking. Yes, this is a solid message from the movie that America can sometimes find itself socially behind the rest of the world.
The Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) is also attempting to figure out the nature of some bizarre incidents that could expose the Wizarding World. This also includes setting up several elements that should play themselves out in the four planned sequels. As a result, the movie does intentionally hold back a few things for the sequels (such as a certain dark wizard Harry Potter fans should gleefully recognize), but this barely interferes with the core story of this film.
Thankfully, this movie does a good job of setting up a fresh new franchise in the Wizarding World. Rowling has given us a new set of characters that we genuinely begin to care for as the story progresses. Newt is an introverted wizard with a bit of a tragic past that makes him care more for his creatures than humans.
Redmayne is perfectly cast as a character that is, at first, awkwardly shut off from the rest of the world, but then he slowly begins to open up when he meets the other characters. This is especially true of his relationship with Jacob, a man that he quickly becomes friends with. He also begins to spark a friendship up with Tina, a woman who also has a bit of a tragic past.
Fogler is the comedic relief as the No-Maj that doesn’t understand what is going on. Despite this, I have to say that Jacob handles it pretty well and proves that maybe MACUSA doesn’t have to completely hide themselves from the rest of the world. Jacob quickly became a character that I liked and I really hope that he shows back up in the planned sequels when the time comes.
Waterston completes this new trinity of heroes and she plays Tina as a vulnerable and nervous witch, but she never loses her core strength. Not only does she begin to teach Newt how to interact with humans again, but she also learns a couple of things from Newt about these creatures he is caring for and why they need to be protected.
The characters, the story, and yes, the creatures are all fun to watch and I began to realize that I felt the same sort of magic (no pun intended) that I used to feel when watching the previous “Harry Potter” films. It spends a little too much time setting up a bigger story, but overall, this is a great start to a new chapter in Rowling’s epic franchise.