By Jim Tortolano
The original “Harry Potter” series of movies started off wonderfully but eventually lapsed into repetition and almost self-parody. There’s a new series of J.K. Rowling tales coming to the movie houses of the world and we can only hope that there’s not a return engagement of the same arc.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is the first in a new string of films set in the Potter-verse, but this one is a bit of a breath of fresh air. No longer confined to the musty walls of Hogwarts, this new branch of the franchise, this first of the five takes place in New York City in 1926.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) comes to the Big Apple on a mission of cataloging magical critters in the New World. He accidentally swaps briefcases with Jacob Kowalksi (Dan Fogler) and much confusion ensues.
They run afoul of the Magical Congress of the United States of America, which is struggling to keep the existence of mages, wizards, witches, warlocks and consultants hidden from the “no-maj”(Yankee equivalent of muggle) public.
Our “heroes” fall in with Portina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and in trouble with Graves (Colin Farrell). The first half of the film is slow, as the sometimes-tedious process of exposition chugs slowly along.
But the second half picks up the pace and there’s enough CGI action and inventive biology to keep your attention to the handoff to … the next four movies.
There are several fine performances here but the ones which stand out are Farrell’s slow reveal from earnest lawman to … something else, and Waterston’s almost-teary empathy.
If the rest of the series can keep turning up new stuff to marvel at, this is a fine start. If not, it’s bound to just be the start of a most unfantastic journey.
“Fantastic Beasts” is rated PG-13 for make-believe violence.
Categories: Arts & Leisure