J.K. Rowling says that this is neither a prequel to nor sequel to the Harry Potter series, and she wrote the original textbook for charity in 2001 and then brought it out of mothballs when she grew starved of her world of ‘wizarding’, turning it into her first screenplay (as, of course, she didn’t write the HP pics, as all Muggles know well).
It also goes without saying that this is the first of a projected series that will be carrying on into the 2020s, so the finished product suffers from too much of the usual Chapter One stage-setting, exposition-heavy dialogue and hardly enchanted narrative convolution.
As directed by David Yates (who ring-mastered four Harry Potter outings), we begin with Newt Scamander, a character name-checked in the third Harry Potter entry and played by Eddie Redmayne, who goes rather overboard with the shy smirking. He’s a wizard who arrives in the New York of 1926 with a suitcase full of magical creatures he’s collected from all over the world (cue environmental messaging), and he couldn’t have chosen a worse time as anti-wizard sentiment is on the rise.
A powerful magical villain with another Rowling-esque mouthful-name is on the loose as well, and Samantha Morton rather overacts as the nasty head of a conservative witch-hunting bunch with a sideline in beating kids that’s not exactly family-friendly.
Naturally, Newt’s case gets mixed up with one belonging to a ‘Non-Maj’ (the American Muggle), and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) must therefore get involved and look startled as he witnesses the secret society of monsters and magic (a society just as corrupt as Hogwarts), and Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is in there too as she tries to dob in Newt for using magic in public. And regrets it.
All this plot grows a little tiresome at times, but some of the players are strong (Alison Sudol is cool as Porpentina’s mind-reading sister Queenie), and the beasts have enough CG personality once they break out, with the menagerie including: an ambulatory, money-hungry platypus; what look like rhinos with Lovecraftian-tentacled heads; highly adaptive flying serpents; and a gorgeous giant eagle/dragon named Frank.
And you don’t need a background in wand manipulation to guess that this will be a massive hit (it will be by the time you read these very words), and that Fantastic Beasts 2 (Even More Fantastic Beasts?), 3, 4 and 5 will be on the way in the coming years. Anyone for Quidditch?
Rated M. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is in cinemas now.