This movie should not work at all. Consider if you will it is:
- A prequel to all things Harry Potter that
- Does not have a single Harry Potter character in it and
- Is based off a fictional text book from the Harry Potter universe.
And besides all that, the screenplay came from a largely untested J.K Rowling. I can personally say I wasn’t as impressed by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as a lot of other folks were, so how was this?
Actually quite good.
Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, some sort of wizard naturalist. He’s making his way to America in the year 1926 with a magical case filled with magical creatures. Ostensibly, he’s there to find a breeder of a rare creature, but he has another reason altogether for coming to America. Why he had to bring his whole beast collection I couldn’t say, but he’s there all the same. Once in New York, he accidentally loses his case to a Muggle/No-Mag named Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and then some of the beasts get loose. He also has some problems with a disgraced American auror (Katherine Waterson). It seems American law has some strict prohibitions on things like associating with non-magical people or having fantastic beasts on your person.
Knowing something of Rowling’s personal politics, I can’t help but think there’s an underlying message there about things like environmentalism, preserving endangered species, and, as the movie progresses, the death penalty. The American style of execution as depicted in the movie is downright creepy.
Director David Yates disappointed me mightily this past summer with The Legend of Tarzan, but he does know his way around a wand. Magical duels are something he’s got a good grasp on, and the action scenes do not disappoint. Redmayne likewise brings a dorky charm to Scamander, a fellow who never seems to quite look people in the eye for the most part while being more interested in the world around him but not the people. I had most of the ending more or less figured out, but a surprise actor cameo at the end was clearly there to set up the sequels. The ending does seem to run a bit long as a result, but Redmayne, Waterson, Fogler, and Alison Sudol at Waterson’s flirty sister Queenie make a fine group, the special effects work, and the movie manages to conjure up most of the Harry Potter charm while only mentioning a few Potter landmarks, namedrop one character once, and play a few bars of the familiar theme music. This movie actually stands well on its own, and the 1926 setting is fully realized in things ranging from cast wardrobe to the goblin-run speakeasy. I’m giving this one nine out of ten platypus-looking thieves.