We thought JK Rowling’s world of wizarding and witchcraft had run its course with The Boy Who Lived aka Harry Potter living happily ever after. But with that franchise raking in close to $8 billion at the global box office there was never a chance a studio would put this cash cow out to pasture.
In an era where cinematic universes are seemingly endless (blame Marvel) Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is Harry Potter without Harry Potter, and set in New York rather than England. Because outside of Harry Potter JK Rowling only ever wrote one other magic related book which was a text book found in the Hogwarts library. Obviously you cannot base a film on a textbook (careful what you wish for) but you can base a film on the author of a fictional text book.
And so it is we’re whisked into the world of Newt Scamander, played with quintessential British schoolboy charm by Eddie Redmayne. As he arrives in New York Newt has a suitcase full of his Fantastic Beasts. And, wouldn’t you know it, they cut loose and run riot. Of course this is the first in a planned series of new films so that was never going to be enough.
Enter Colin Farrell’s sinister wizard policeman and Ezra Miller’s conflicted young anti-witch protestor. Like Harry Potter before it Fantastic Beasts wants to be fun early on before delving into some quite dark arts. One death scene in particular is definitely not for a younger audience. Redmayne’s innocent performance and some comical early set pieces bring a lightness to the film but make no mistake, Fantastic Beasts is a darker shade of creature to Harry Potter.
Perhaps key to this is the fact Fantastic Beasts is the first Potter-verse film to be directly influenced by its creator. Rowling wrote the script and it has as sense of something genuinely magical. There is a prowess to the film, the opening of a world far beyond the walls of Hogwarts that lends itself to a majesty far greater than just the story of the boy who survived. The Potter films were for children, Fantastic Beasts is for those children who have grown up and are aware of a wider, often darker, but always hopeful world.
In many ways it feels familiar. The newspaper opening of an evil wizard who has disappeared are perhaps a little too like a certain Voldemort but the adventure feels fresh, even if the antagonists doesn’t. The period 1920s setting of New York feels fresh and distinctly grander than the tip sipping ways of Hogwart’s English setting. Thankfully Redmayne keeps this affair still thoroughly British.
A bit of a reboot, at times a homage to Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them rockets you into the world of magic and offers up the potential to a hugely enjoyable, and endlessly darker, Potter world.