Given the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter movies (and, latterly, the new stage show), a big-screen spin-off was always going to be something of a no-brainer.
Indeed, Warner Bros are so confident in the success of their new franchise, that five films have already been announced.
Happily, on the evidence of the first, this is actually very good news indeed. The film’s credentials are impeccable.
J.K. Rowling herself has written the screenplay, imagining a tale based around Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the author of one of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts textbooks. Similarly, the film is directed by David Yates, who helmed the last four Potter films in the franchise.
The action begins in 1926 New York, where ‘magizoologist’ Newt (a sort of wizarding equivalent of David Attenborough) arrives with a magical suitcase full of mysterious beasties.
After a bag mix-up, some of the creatures are accidentally released by hapless Muggle (or No-Maj, as they’re called in America) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), so the pair join forces to try and recapture them, aided by former magical investigator Porpentina (Katherine Waterston) and her mind-reading sister Queenie (a scene-stealing Alison Sudol).
Meanwhile, Colin Farrell’s brooding Magical Security boss is hot on their trail, and there’s trouble brewing with anti-witch activist Mary-Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) and her adopted son Credence (Ezra Miller).
‘Rowling’s script is thrillingly immersive’
Redmayne makes an immensely likeable lead; with Newt’s passion for mystical creatures balanced by a charming degree of social awkwardness. Indeed, his performance is frequently reminiscent of Matt Smith’s turn as Doctor Who.
Waterston is equally good, but the film is frequently stolen by the comic double-act of Sudol (who seems to be channeling Marilyn Monroe) and Fogler, whose reactions get the film’s biggest laughs.
Rowling’s script is thrillingly immersive, plunging the audience into a fully-realised world of wizarding that’s at once instantly familiar to die-hard Potter fans and yet dizzyingly inventive and original.
At the same time, Rowling creates a clever and timely allegory – presenting an America that’s riven with paranoia, fear and bigotry, as the humans are deeply suspicious of the wizarding community, who, in turn, work hard to remain undetected, so as not to provoke war.
There’s even a Trump equivalent, of sorts. Yates’ assured direction keeps things moving at a suitably breathless pace, and the film makes strong use of its 3D effects, with creatures that frequently hover in front of the camera for a cheeky close-up.
Similarly, the beasties themselves are beautifully realised and the production design is superb, from the breath-taking invention of the interior of Newt’s TARDIS-like suitcase to Colleen Atwood’s sumptuous costume designs.
In addition, Yates orchestrates a number of terrific highlights, from an elf-run speakeasy (complete with a terrific cameo) to a hilarious encounter at the zoo (with Newt attempting to recapture a giant, horny rhino-like creature) and a number of exciting chase sequences.
Exciting, imaginative and warm-hearted, this is an enormously entertaining fantasy adventure with great characters, impressive effects work, and a brilliantly realised setting.
Director: David Yates Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Gemma Chan, Katherine Waterson, Samantha Morton Genre: Fantasy / Adventure Country: USA / UK Release date: November 18, 2016 Cert: 12A Running time: 133 mins