Eddie Redmayne Katherine Waterston Colin Farrell Dan Fogler Allison Sudol Samantha Morton
Ezra Miller Ron Perlman Jon Voight Carmen Ejogo Johnny Depp
This spinoff of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series contains all the excitement and fascination we would hope would follow the previous series. Exceptionally directed by David Yates (who directed four of the eight Harry Potter series), it is Rowling’s first screenplay and verifies once again her talent as a writer. It stars the chameleon actor Eddie Redmayne as a “magizoologist” who has written a text used by the Hogwarts School and whose interest is in protecting exotic beasts that the rest of the world seems to fear and want to wipe out. He regards them as endangered species, and carries a handy little briefcase to tuck them into when the need arises. From there, they are magically transported to a sanctuary he has built for them.
Newt Scamander (Redmayne) has come to the U.S. to relocate a beast he has rescued into the Arizona desert. What he encounters upon arriving in New York, though, is something like a terrorist threat. The city is under attack from something—nobody seems to know what, and we get only vague descriptions of it, but it is wrecking everything in its path. In addition, there seems to be tension among factions—those who want to stamp out magic, saying the practitioners are witches, those who want to preserve it (Magical Congress of the United States of America—MANCUSA), and No-Maj people (with no magical powers). Everyone seems to want to protect these poor souls.
Typical of Rowling, we see parallel stories develop with characters we care about, others with evil intent, and still others caught in the middle of these two forces. We see Tina (Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Sudol) trying to use their magic in a positive way despite self-serving superiors like Percival Graves (Farrell) and possibly Seraphina (Ejogo), president of MACUSA, whose sentiments are not always discernible. We see Mary Lou Barebone (Morton) who takes in orphans like Credence (Miller) and preaches against magic. And we see Percival Graves (Farrell) wielding his power over Credence to manipulate him into searching for someone Graves wants. The intermixing of all these strains adds complexity and enhances our fascination with the tale.
Cinematography (Phillippe Rousselot), production design (Stuart Craig and James Hambridge), and visual/special effects essentially carry this film, right along with the story and the characters portrayed by captivating actors. It’s so rewarding to see Redmayne play a modest hero magically out to do good—but then, he is an expert at that, presumably because it taps into his own personal qualities. Supporting actors Katherine Waterston, Allison Sudol, Samantha Morton, and Ron Perlman (always creepy) give notable performances that further the elevation of this film’s quality.
J.K. Rowling: You got it!