At this point author JK Rowling could put her name on a telephone directory and it would sell millions of copies.
However, with Harry now growing into middle age with kids in tow, Warner Brother Studios were keen to find another franchise within the Potter universe.
This slim outline of a story, previously written for “Comic Relief” (UK charity), has been fleshed out to provide endless possibilities for the future, assuming the origin story can get off the ground.
“Newt” (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in 1920’s New York with battered suitcase in tow. Once he clears customs, hopefully with his TSA forms completed correctly and no laptop, he is cleared by the authorities, on high alert for unauthorized wizards.
Following a mix up with a “No Maj” (a.k.a. Muggle) “Jacob Kowalski” (Dan Fogler) a sad sack with no magical powers, the contents of Newt’s case escape. This unleashes various fantastical beasts throughout the city.
The story is centered around “Newt’s” efforts to capture said animals and get them back into the magical suitcase before anyone, magical or otherwise notices.
This does not go well, unless whole New York streets being levelled is playing it low key.
Meanwhile “Mary Lou” (Samantha Morton) an activist lined up against the tyranny of magical powers. Lou is looking after her many child charges with a rod of iron, or handy leather belt which she administers freely. The “family” includes Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), an odd character who clearly has some issues.
Lurking in the background is a possible villain of the piece “Graves” (Colin Farrell), ostensibly administering justice and authority within the hallowed halls of (MACUSA).
The film is really an excuse to expand the “Potterverse”, which the film does effectively enough. The film has the benefit of expensive production values and the period setting is fun and adds another dimension. After a promising start the movie somewhat sags in the middle section, where the screenplay writer (Rawlings) decides to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.
Redmayne continues to show his considerable range, bearing in mind his recent roles, clearly indicating there are no challenges he will not take on. Playing an immobilized Stephen Hawkins, then a man transitioning into a woman in the Danish Girl and now action/comedy/fantasy, remaining entirely plausible in all three categories.
Redmayne gets good support from the supporting cast, notably Dan Fogler playing the rather forlorn no maj “Jacob Kowalski”.
Whilst enjoyable and sure to be lapped up by the rug rats, this takes a “more is just more” approach. Hopefully the next two installments will focus on the central premise without introducing too many cute and cuddly unnecessary characters.
Sales of the cute kleptomaniac “Niffler” are bound to increase exponentially but the scenes exploring the many creatures Newt looks after seem like overkill. Also one scene where Redmayne is forced to act like an on heat “dino-rhinoceros” seems extraneous, something even his classical training would not have prepared him for.
With more restraint and tighter script this could have been a classic but ignoring faults the film remains a fun ride most will enjoy.
This also neatly sets up future entries in the series, hinted at when Hogwarts is outed as not the only wizarding school with another existing in America….who knew?