FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY David Yates
STARS Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston
- Eddie Redmayne in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Photo: Warner Bros.)
It's tempting to warily eye this entity known as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and see nothing more than a blatant cash-grab, an impersonal product designed to separate fans of all things Harry Potter from their hard-earned cash (or, in the case of some teens, easily acquired allowance). And initially, this film from David Yates (who directed the final four Potter pictures) and J.K. Rowling (in her screenwriting debut, marking the first time she's adapted one of her own works) does seem to be coasting on its related mythology, feeling like warmed-over Hogwarts. Eventually, though, the saga of British wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his trip to America hits its stride, and the end result proves to be a welcome addition to the fantasy field.
Rather than just functioning as elongated exposition for the umpteen sequels to follow, this one is self-contained enough to satisfy on its own terms, following Newt as he bumbles his way through the Big Apple with a suitcase full of mysterious critters. Along the way, he raises the curiosity of a well-meaning witch (Katherine Waterston), grabs the attention of a high-ranking wizard (Colin Farrell), and inadvertently involves an innocent bystander (Dan Fogler) in his shenanigans.
Redmayne is affable and endearingly awkward as Newt; so, too, is Fogler, and the inclusion of a No-Maj (the American term for the UK's Muggle) in a central role is largely what sets this apart from the more hermetically sealed Potter tales. There are references to that other Rowling enterprise (Dumbledore is name-dropped), but with a fresh cast of characters, a significant change in locale, and various plotlines all working toward the same destination, this picture thankfully turns out to be its own beast.