When you’re the type of person that spent a large portion of their childhood, teenaged years, adulthood and more obsessing over Harry, Ron and Hermione, being introduced to new characters who live somewhere other than Hogwarts can be a bit jarring. Who are these new people, and why should we care? The fact that Warner Bros plans to squeeze five films out of Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, effectively building yet another, separate franchise, feels a bit like emotional blackmail. But as long as the wizarding world remains the setting, we know we’re always going to come back.
When magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York in 1926 with a suitcase full of magical creatures, it’s not long before a few of them inevitably escape, causing Newt to start a citywide search for the beasts before the muggles catch wind of what’s happening, thus risking the secrecy of the entire magical world. Things are made a lot harder when the Magical Congress of the United States of America, or MACUSA for short, decides to get involved.
Happily, the greatest thing about Fantastic Beasts is in fact the beasts. The Harry Potter series gave us a look at some of what the wizarding world’s wildlife has to offer, but the contents of Newt’s suitcase is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Each new creature is just as brilliant as the last, with a few inspiring wonderful, endlessly entertaining set pieces as Newt attempts to coerce them back into the bag.
In addition to the creatures, the magic of the wizarding world continues to enchant and transfix. The 15 years that passed since the Philosopher’s Stone have really left time of visual effects technology to advance. One downside to that, however, is that goblins and such are no longer played by people, and the sort of mechanical engineering that went into Buckbeak the Hippogriff appears basically obsolete. Now almost everything is animated, which is a shame, because it would have been amazing to see the actual Ron Perlman play a goblin gangster, rather than a CG figure that sort of looks like him.
The film’s standout character is easily Jacob Kowalski, which is surprising considering he’s a muggle but unsurprising considering he’s played by the extremely likeable Dan Fogler. He doesn’t need a funny script to be hilarious; just an odd sound or a bemused facial expression will do. Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein, Newt’s new New Yorker associate and ex-MACUSA auror, is also a fun addition, providing the audience a very human look into the differences between the American wizarding world and the British one. She also seems to cry a lot, but Waterston makes it work.
Newcomer Alison Sudol is wonderfully magical as Tina’s sister Queenie, and rather Luna Lovegood-like in disposition. She’s not quite as weird as Luna, but she’s got the added bonus of being a legilimens, meaning she can read people’s minds, and cut out the middleman when flirting with Jacob. The rest of the cast are good – you would need to use a revelio charm to find a weak link – but they aren’t particularly anything to shout about. However, the entire Harry Potter series wasn’t known for its phenomenal performances either, and look how that turned out.
A couple of things don’t add up though, like why Newt had to get a ship from England to New York when he could have just apparated. He clearly knows how, seeing as he does it in everything other scene. There may be some kind of wizarding law against apparating intercontinentally, but if Fantastic Beasts proved one thing it’s that Newt has no qualms about breaking the law.
Also, why didn’t Newt find his niffler using a simple summoning charm when it first escaped? He would have saved himself a lot of faffing about if he’d just done that from the start instead of chasing the cheeky beggar all over New York City. These may seem like small, pedantic quibbles, but we’ve come to expect more from JK Rowling, who, throughout the Harry Potter books, demonstrated she could clever herself out of any situation with (almost) everything making sense and abiding by the laws of the wizarding world.
Fantastic Beasts may be entertaining and often mesmerising but, ultimately and obviously, it’s not Harry Potter. It likes to link itself back to Harry’s world through namedropping, magical lore and the odd talisman, but there’s something missing. It might be the heart, it might be Harry himself, but it’s most likely the fact that we haven’t spent years loving Newt, Tina, Jacob and Queenie before we finally saw them on screen.