Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Directed By: David Yates

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, and Colin Farrell

I have sorely missed the magical world of witchcraft and wizardry for the last five years.  Since everyone's favorite trio of Hogwarts students graduated from the big screen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 way back in 2011, there's been a certain, unmistakable kind of movie magic absent from theaters.  It's been quite noticeable for me, a huge fan of the fantasy genre.  With all this in mind, I couldn't have been more excited when I learned of the Harry Potter spinoff prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  With a flawed hero, a whole new world to explore, and a pinch of familiarity, this latest exploration of J.K. Rowling's incredible imagination heralds the birth of a new franchise and is just what the doctor ordered for the box office at the start of the holiday movie season.

It's 1926.  Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is terrorizing the magical community overseas.  As his evil spreads, MACUSA, the Magical Congress of the United States of America, decides to put in place laws that help prevent a war between the wizarding world and muggles — effectively termed as No-Majs.  This includes the banning of all magical creatures and beasts.  Former Hogwarts student Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) apparently didn't get the memo.  The young wizard makes his way to New York with a suitcase full of creatures of all sorts.  On a chance encounter with an extremist group of No-Maj peoples called Second-Salemers and aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), Scamander loses his suitcase and several creatures get loose in the city.  Former Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) has a penchant for following the Second-Salemers and witnesses Scamander's beasts getting loose.  She arrests him on the spot, and a magical journey begins.  Meanwhile, MACUSA Auror Perceval Graves (Colin Farrell) invests quite a bit of energy into Second-Salemer son Credence (Ezra Miller).

Simply put, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hits the spot and is a return to form for studio Warner Bros after a dismal run with pointless remakes and shameful entries into the DCEU.  David Yates was the man behind the camera for half the Harry Potter franchise, and he's just what the doctor ordered to usher in the beginning of this new franchise.  It's a reintroduction to the world of witchcraft and wizardry, but Yates makes Fantastic Beasts feel more like something wholly new.  With a completely different storyline from author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling, a slate of colorful characters we don’t know, and a host of majestic creatures we’ve never seen, this Potter spinoff sets the stage for a brand new era in the world of magic.  When Yates mixes the jazzy setting of the 1920s with the wonder of the wizarding world, the result is cinematic bliss, and we all benefit from it.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them stands tall as one of the best blockbusters of 2016.

What's really interesting about Fantastic Beasts is that it doesn't feature the perfect hero in Newt Scamander.  On the contrary, he's as flawed as they come.  With a nimble performance from the increasingly impressive Eddie Redmayne, the young wizard is arrogant, rude, and downright eccentric.  On top of this, he's a pretty willful lawbreaker.  Somewhere deep down, however, there's a pinch of heroism in Scamander's DNA that bubbles up to the surface every now and then.  The abundant flaws of Newt Scamander are in stark contrast with the perfection of Batman, Superman, The Avengers, and most recently Doctor Strange.  It's quite refreshing and brings a different kind of heroism to the big screen.  Focusing on the flawed hero is a lost art that Yates and Redmayne revive here.

Aside from our main hero in Fantastic Beasts, we have a terrific ensemble bringing our supporting characters to life.  For her part as Tina Goldstein, Katherine Waterston gives us a surprisingly endearing straight arrow.  Earnest to a fault, she has a way of pulling the heroism out of Newt.  For his part as No-maj Jacob Kowalski, Dan Fogler gives us the charismatic heart and soul of the movie.  In complete awe of magic for the better part of the movie, he also very much represents the moviegoers in the audience as well.  For her part as Tina's sister Queenie, Alison Sudol brings a warm energy to the film and an unmistakable innocence.  She infuses a zestful youth into the film that gives it an extra bounce.  Colin Farrell is also a delightful antagonist as Percival Graves.  He's quite menacing in his strong turn as this dark, brooding character.  Finally, we have Ezra Miller as Credence.  The young actor has a talent for portraying oddball characters and fits the bill perfectly as this Second-Salemer.

I almost gave Fantastic Beasts a sober rating.  Almost.  The only reason I will not is that I can't give it the same rating as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.  I simply can't.  That being said, I've got nothing but love for this burgeoning franchise, and I can't wait to see what challenges are ahead for our flawed hero Newt Scamander.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.  Don't miss it!