Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens this week
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens this week

Potter eh? That wizard has much to answer for.

And one thing's for sure, he certainly knows how to make billions at the book store and the box office.

Now his creator JK Rowling is back, sans Potter himself. Whaaaaaaat is she thinking? Potter fans are POTTER fans, are they not?

Will they embrace a new film - the first of a planned five new films - without Harry, Hermione and Ron?

This is the first Rowling film not based on a book. She wrote this specifically for the big screen as her first screenplay. Of course, she is counting on her legion of fans to follow her down this new magical rabbit hole - and I'm happy to report, she's written a story worthy of that.

This is the tale of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Newt attended Hogwarts, but over half a century before Harry Potter was even born.

Harry will grow up at Hogwarts with a textbook written by Scamander: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Rowling's new story fleshes out that book and the clumsy, endearing, self-proclaimed "magizoologist" who pens it, as Scamander spends his life researching all the Fantastic Beasts he can find.

That mission will land him in New York City, his suitcase by his side. But of course this is not just any old suitcase, and when a few 'fantastic' inhabitants of said suitcase make a break for it, it won't be long before his presence gets noticed by the MACUSA.

Now if I've lost you already, here are a few salient points to note about this new Rowling tale.

She cleverly relocates her magical world to where millions of Potter fans reside - America. By doing so, she can play around with her original ideas in very different ways.

In America, for example, us plain old non-wizardy Muggles are called a 'No-Maj'. Instead of Britain's Ministry of Magic as their governing wizard body, here there is the Magical Congress of the United States, or MACUSA.

There are also a few very different laws in place for how magic and wizards must operate. All wizards must have a wand permit and no wizard is ever, ever permitted to fraternise with a No-Maj.

These are important differences, and there are others to be revealed, as Rowling and her director of choice David Yates (of the last four Potter movies) lay the foundations for a new five-film franchise.

The casting here is really rather excellent. Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne embodies the perfect mix of ringleader and clown, more comfortable with his creatures than with wizards and Muggles.

Katherine Waterstone acts as the perfect foil, as Porpentina Goldstein - she works at the MACUSA, but her career is on a rather downward trajectory. She's hot on Newt's tail, and the many tails inside his suitcase.

If you're a Potter fan, I had you at "Potter". But even if you only have a passing interest, I'd argue this film has plenty to offer with or without your wand.

Parents should note the M rating for violence - darkness this way lurks, and this kind of magic could be a little too much for the little ones.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a surprisingly intimate watch given its scale, with moments of real tenderness.

With Yates at the helm, fans should expect an assured, polished and cohesive watch which fuses the old and the new, the magic with reality, and the spectacle with heart.

Four stars.

     Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:: Director: David Yates:: Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Zoë Kravitz, Dan Fogler, Jenn Murray, Ron Perlman, Jon Voight:: Running Time: 133 minutes:: Release Date: November 18, 2016

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