"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" (WB), the latest film adaptation in J.K. Rowling’s popular and profitable film franchise that spawned eight Harry Potter movies, emphasizes comedy and terror in equal measure. Set in New York just a few years after the end of World War I and just before the stock market crash, it’s a prescient Potter prequel that couldn’t be timelier.
Newt Scamander (Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne who perfects his Hugh Grant bumble here) is an expert when it comes to the titular fantastic beasts. On his first trip to New York, he’s brought some of his magical menagerie with him in a suitcase that would make Mary Poppins jealous. When one creature, with a proclivity for kleptomania, escapes captivity it inadvertently links Scamander and No-Maj (read: mortal or Muggle) baker Jacob (Dan Fogler) for the duration of the story. Scamander also catches the eye of magic investigator Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), whose attempts at bringing Scamander to justice continually backfire.
Meanwhile, anti-wizard sentiment is on the rise following a series of violent attacks by notoriously dangerous Dark Wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him performance), described by a witness to the devastation as a “dark wind with eyes.” A severe Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) leads the witch-hunting Second Salem sect which hopes to curtail and destroy the magic community.
The aptly named Graves (Colin Farrell), director of Magical Security is also on the case. But as we soon learn, he has his own motives. There are other forces at work, including Credence (incredible queer actor Ezra Miller), one of Mary Lou’s adopted children, who has been harboring a destructive secret.
Fantastic Beasts… has almost everything you could ask for in a movie of this sort, including memorable characters such as Tina’s mind-reading and scene-stealing sister Queenie (Allison Sudol), mind-blowing special effects, heroes and villains, and, of course, the fantastic flora and fauna beasts. There’s even a less than subtle hint of sequels to come.