IMAGINE THAT: Redmayne's Newt Scamander finds adventure in New York.
Visually sharp and strongly acted, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is J.K. Rowling’s long-awaited follow-up to the Harry Potter tales that made her an international storytelling sensation. Directed by David Yates, the two-hour-long 3D film, which could spawn a few sequels, provides audiences with a deep re-immersion into that fascinating wizarding world, with a charismatic young ‘sorcerer’ as the central figure.
This time around that honour falls to Eddie Redmayne, the talented Brit who won last year’s Best Actor Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. A terrific transformer, he disappears into the role of Englishman Newt Scamander, a shy loner who, having just been expelled from Hogwarts, lands in New York for a new adventure, with a trunkload of magical creatures along for the ride.
He doesn’t have to wait long for trouble to find him. When the creatures escape from his keep and start wreaking havoc across the Big Apple, Newt becomes enemy number one of the local secret police tasked with keeping things under wraps in the magic community, for fear of exposure. This New York is split into two factions – the magic folks and the non-magics who are kept in the dark.
Scamander puts all that at risk, especially when he encounters Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), an overweight baker seeking money to open his bakery. Jacob agrees to help Newt find and re-cage his creatures, but that’s easier said than done. He gets help, too, from Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who works with the secret police. Her mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who falls head over heels for Jacob, tags along.
Meanwhile, Colin Farrell appears as Percival Graves, an intimidating and powerful presence in the top ranks of the magics, who acts as a sort of right-hand man for their powerful queen, played with steely authority by Carmen Ejogo. Rounding out the solid supporting cast: Jon Voight is a big-wig whose officious son is gunning for a senate seat, while Samantha Morton turns in commanding work as a strict foster mother who has her hands full keeping her wards in line, particularly the troubled Credence (Ezra Miller).
While not as intense or plot-heavy as the blockbuster Potter films, Fantastic Beasts delivers that same otherworldly appeal that reels you in. Under Yates’ sure-footed direction, it’s well-paced, as Rowling’s fascinating vision come to life. Best of all, it’s buoyed by the kind of sublime art direction that traditionally wins Oscar nominations.
Still, it’s the intriguing story (full of wit and humour and dramatic antics) and the engaging work of the actors that give the movie its juice. With such iconic roles as Marius (in Les Miserables) and Hawking already under his belt, Redmayne manages to turn Newt Scamander into a likeable chap – a reluctant hero that makes a worthy addition to his growing body of work.
Overall, the Harry Potter franchise may be in a league by itself, but as a subsequent Rowling creation, Fantastic Beasts feels like its earnest kid brother intent on making a name for himself, a promising young wizard in training. Tyrone’s Verdict: B