I had to keep reminding myself that not everyone knows the Harry Potter series, much less the entire universe. Studios are always trying to keep a franchise alive long after the main series is long since over. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an interesting expansion on the history of the wizarding world, but you better know what you’re getting yourself into.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a collector and catalogues all magical creatures and his exploits have taken him to 1926 New York where he runs afoul of the secret magic community by accidentally involving a No-Maj (non-magic people) named Kowalski (Dan Fogler). As they are being helped reluctantly by a former officer of the community named Tina (Katherine Waterston), they find themselves being chased by magic officer Graves (Colin Ferrell) who has an agenda of his own.
Let me get this out of the way first: if you’ve never seen or heard of a Harry Potter then this flick ain’t for you. I’m a casual Harry Potter fan, and I had a hard time figuring out the hell was going on half the time. You see, America has different wizardry rules than England, so half the time I’m wondering why certain regulations are in place. Before you go on about how I have to read this, that or the other, I call bullshit. There is a world of difference between reading something to enhance the experience, and just not properly setting anything up at all. Fan or not, we should all be on the same page.
Eddie Redmayne just further cements in my eyes that the man has no range as an actor. You see one movie with this guy, and you’ve seen him in everything. There is nothing unique or even joyful about Newt, and I didn’t give two shits about his journey.
But I can’t praise Dan Fogler enough for his performance as Kowalski. This character fundamentally exists as an audience surrogate; he is supposed to ask everything we as audience members would ask. Even then, Fogler has managed, unlike Redmayne, to create a character thaf stands on his own, great natural timing, and a heart and warmth that I surely never would have expected.
The film as a whole is fun and is a delight for the most hardcore fans of this universe, but as a jumping in point its pretty poor due to that horrific mess of a first act. But once you get past it, the film has fun and is engaging. If for no other reason, see it for Kowalski. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.