By Chris Edwards, reviewing from Vue Piccadilly.
Imagine creating one of the most celebrated worlds in the history of literature, filled with complex characters and intricate plots, and then having to do it all over again with a completely different story. That's the challenge facing Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It's like she's been asked to redo her homework, even though she got it right the first time around.
Teaming up once again with director David Yates, Rowling has penned her first ever screenplay, basing it loosely on her book of the same name. It's the start of what we now know will be a pentalogy. And while squeezing five films out of source material that's essentially a Pokedex always seemed ambitious, it's immediately clear just how big a world they're trying to set up here. In the process of being bold, they've also established a tone far darker than anything we've seen from the Harry Potter series. But the more friendly beasts maintain the humour and lightheartedness that families have come to associate with the franchise.
Set in 1926 New York, It opens with Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arriving in the Big Apple. He carries a suitcase that appears to work like a TARDIS because it's filled with all sorts of strange-looking creatures, including a giant griffin and a snake with wings that can expand to fill a house.
When he bumps into No-Maj (the American term for Muggles) Jacob Kowalksi (Dan Fogler), some of the beasts are let loose, prompting the unlikely duo to bumble around the city in an attempt to recapture them. Meanwhile, a dark and mysterious power, appropriately named an Obscurus, threatens the lives of civilians. It’s this part of the story that brings in Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her mind reader sister Queenie (Alison Sudol). They work for the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), which is particularly concerned about the wizarding world being exposed to those filthy No-Majs. Colin Farrell is especially menacing as one of their main enforcers Percival Graves, fully embracing the dark direction Rowling and Yates have taken.
With four more films to come, you can certainly sense a bigger story bubbling beneath the surface. And my magical intuition tells me it’s only going to get darker.
You’ll love this film if you live and breathe Harry Potter.
See this film with someone who owns a replica wand.
Before the film, why not visit the London Zoo Reptile house, where Harry first discovered his gift for talking to snakes.
After the film, try and find the gateway to Diagon Alley on Charing Cross Road.
And for all your wizarding merchandise needs, visit the Platform 9¾ shop at King’s Cross Station.