“What are you really doing here?” asks Auror 6 (Arinze Kene) of the Magical Congress of the USA. A high-ranking opponent of the Dark Arts, he suspects that Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), British magizoologist, has committed a crime — releasing magical creatures into New York City. “I came to America to bring Frank home,” says Eddie, not mentioning that Frank is a giant Thunderbird inadvertently released from Newt’s creature-filled magic suitcase — luggage that’s much, much bigger on its inside. That’s the set-up for this adventure fantasy and quasi-prequel to the Harry Potter films.
Can Newt wrangle Frank and the other escaped creatures — Niffler, Demiguise and Erumpent? What are MACUSA security man Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and young Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) up to? And where is escaped dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald? For answers, see “FBAWTFT.”
Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, and Alison Sudol play the film’s principal characters: eccentric, creature-friendly Newt Scamander, wanna-be baker Jacob Kowalski, and witch sisters Porpentina and Queenie Goldstein. They (especially Queenie) are fun, as most of their adventures are. Their personalities are quirky and charming; their relationships, set to develop in four more films. The most developed relationship in this first film is male — the accidental friendship between wizard Newt and No-Maj (non-magical) Jacob Kowalski. Of the two, it’s Kowalski who’s more likeable. But then, he’s like us — a Muggle. “You’re a Muggle,” says Newt. “So our physiologies are subtly different.” Newt sometimes annoys people; people like Kowalski.
Others in the large cast include Colin Farrell as Percival Graves, high up in MACUSA and, even higher up, Dominique Tipper as Auror 1. Jon Voight is New York politician Henry Shaw, Sr., father of ambitious Senator Shaw, played by Josh Cowdery. Johnny Depp cameos as dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is the first installment in, we are told, a five-part tale, so it has lots to do: introduce principal characters, provide them with a stand-alone plot and, at the same time, identify an arch-villain who will, we can be assured, return in subsequent films. The stand-alone plot is set in 1926 New York City, centering on Newt Scamander’s search to find his missing “fantastic creatures.” J.K. Rowling wrote the script. David Yates, Harry Potter series veteran, directs, so we’re in good hands, but still, there’s a lot going on and, from time to time, it’s difficult to follow. Must you have seen the Potter films to enjoy this one? No, but it’s even more fun for Potter fans.
Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence, “FBAWTFT” runs 133 minutes.
“Fantastic Beasts” is a treat,
A “Harry Potter” prequel:
Wizards, witches in New York;
You bet, there’ll be a sequel.