Here’s where I stand on Harry Potter. I read all of the main series of books by J.K. Rowling and enjoyed them but didn’t love them, though I thought the writing improved over the course of the series. Probably if I first came to them as a teenager I would have loved them. I saw the first two or three films, and thought they were well done, but was not motivated to see the rest. I haven’t read the short book that sparked this new film or any other newer writings by Rowling. What got me to the theater for this film was the trailer, seen when viewing “Doctor Strange.” I liked what I saw, and I liked the idea of finding out what Rowling herself would put into a film she wrote and co-produced.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a Hogwarts graduate who has become a specialist in magical beasts, traveling the world in search of them, and putting some of them into his magic suitcase which is MUCH larger on the inside. He comes to New York, where there is a well-developed society of wizards, but one which hides itself from the common people. (This reminded me of Bill Willingham’s FABLES.) Soon after his arrival, he meets Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) a non-magic New Yorker with the dream of opening his own bakery. In the old switched suitcase gambit, Kowalski unwittingly allows some of Newt’s fantastic beasts to escape. Newt is soon collared by New York witch Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) who tries to convince her superiors to help Newt regain his beasts, and failing that, decides to help him herself. Newt and Jacob end up at her apartment where Tina’s sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) takes a shine to Jacob and wants to help, too.
Other plot lines involve a cult-like society out to destroy wizards and witches, a very dangerous evil force spawned by a mistreated child, a high-ranking New York wizard, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) who is playing a deceptive game to gain power, and of course the beasts themselves, which are all made-up creatures of varying kinds. The one we see the most and earliest is a Niffler, which loves to steal and horde gold and jewelry. It looks something like a cross between a mole and a platypus, and is charmingly naughty. All the beasts are interesting and visually impressive, as are the effects in general. The true focus of the story, though, is people. The four heroic leads, some mistreated children, the devious wizard, and more. There’s plenty of action, plenty of magic and magical destruction, mentions here and there of Harry Potter connections, and all taking place in 1920s New York, adding historical charm of its own. There’s also a nifty reveal near the end.
I liked the film a lot. Not sure that I loved it, but I would certainly go see the next one. I’m generally impressed with Rowling’s work here. The emotional strings are pushed a bit harder than necessary, but I liked the characters, and would enjoy seeing more of them. I also liked the expansion of Rowling’s magical world both back in time and out to America, and further by implication. More of that, please.