Brilliant beastly business
The first non-Harry film in the Potter-verse favours a 1926 New York setting that follows characters pivotal to the Harry Potter mythology.
If you’re not aware that Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) was a magical zoologist who wrote a textbook or that Gellert Grindelwald fought Dumbledore in an infamous battle for something-or-other, Fantastic Beasts defines itself so well that newbies can easily follow while nerd eyes will soak up all the new details.
JK Rowling feels incredibly in-tune with her audience, the majority of whom grew up with the Hogwarts Class of 2001. Now these grown-ups are treated to a tale starring adults, centred on Scamander who enters the Big Apple with a (terribly unreliable) suitcase full of beasts while the underground world of wizards deals with an unstable threat that could expose them all.
Redmayne makes for a tender, unique, heart-warming hero who can sometimes seem more Time Lord than wizard (complete with Tardis-like luggage). Aiding him superbly is Dan Fogler, as the muggle who stumbles into the world of magic like a pug in a car wash – bewildered, yet astonished. Alison Sudol also radiates as one-note charmer Queenie.
It’s a damn shame that Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) isn’t as memorable. After being disgraced, she seeks to prove herself to the Statute of Secrecy, but the movie denies her a decent chance to do some magic badassery.
The climax also underwhelms – as if they put nuts and bolts inside a CGI blender, threw it inside a subway, and called it a fight scene. But that’s partly because everything you see before that finale is so very visually fantastical. Special effects can elicit excitement through explosions, but Fantastic Beasts is at its best when it elicits wonder through exploration.
Hopefully we’ll see more of that in the next four sequels.