Back into the Harry Potter world, we go, but things are not as you might expect. Instead of borrowing heavily from its previous world that filled the imagination of kids worldwide, Fantastic Beasts finds itself steering into new territory. A more grown-up take on the world of wizards and magic whilst still appealing to adults and kids. Despite its differences, we still feel at home in this world, it remains familiar, like a vague memory.
Immediately the film is set apart with a dose of fresh characters. The story follows the origins of the wizarding school textbook, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Eddie Redmayne has dazzled audiences in previous works such as The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl. He plays Newt Scamander, the author of the textbook, as we follow his adventurous perils through the New York landscape and the realm of magic. Redmayne plays a man that is sheepish around people, often looking down at his shoes, despite being a man that shows his bravery, even comfort around large and dangerous beasts. His charm lies in this innocent portrayal that is far removed from the brash outbursts of Potter.
He arrives in New York, looking for some rare species, carrying a large quantity of some with himself, inside of a battered old suitcase. At the same time, something that is known as an obscurial, tears through the city in a hurricane of dark magic. Trouble follows Newt wherever he seems to go in this film, starting with a bank scene. He forms an unlikely relationship with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who is down on his luck but has dreams of opening a bakery shop. Jacob is a down-to-earth man who has no knowledge of any sort of magic. He is nevertheless fated to join Newt in the Rowling universe. This means falling into the turmoil of a powerful wizard, and a weird cult that curses witches from their dark headquarters. Romance pokes its head around the corner too, when US wizard authority operative, Tina Goldstein and her telepathic sister Queenie are caught up trying to protect the two.
The obstacles, challenges and perils presented in flurrying action scenes are met with a comedic undertone that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Part of this fun is seeing the same old magic we are used to being splashed about in various scenes, watching the secret of magic take place. It’s a delight to know that we are in on this secret unlike so many citizens of New York that wonder around their whole life without knowledge of this whole other world that exists. This film delivers fun in abundance, with an ever-present undertone of darkness, just brewing in the background – setting up for a promising second instalment.