Peter Yates returns to helm the next chapter in the Harry Potter universe, a prequel called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the title of a textbook Harry studied at Hogwarts.
The film takes place well before Harry’s time, as the world of wizardry comes to New York City in the 1920s. Unfortunately, Beasts struggles with some of the same problems the first, lackluster Harry Potter had. It’s a sometimes good-looking movie with a screenplay that never takes hold. It’s all over the place, with no real sense of purpose other than setting you up for future movies. It’s nothing but an overblown place-setter.
In place of Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry, we get Eddie Redmayne’s Newt, author of the infamous textbook and caretaker for a variety of “fantastic beasts.” The film opens with him coming to New York toting a suitcase with a variety of beasts bursting to get out. Some of them do, indeed, escape and wreak havoc. Most notably a little platypus-looking thing called Niffler.
There’s a fun moment when Newt opens his case, and drops into it like it contains a staircase. It reveals a vast home for the creatures inside, where he feeds them and plays. And that’s it, really.
The movie is a big setup for the occasional sequences involving Redmayne interacting with special effects. The creatures might look relatively cool, but none of them register as great characters that move the plot along. Dan Fogler is pretty good in a supporting role as somebody who befriends Newt, but that doesn’t keep this film from being a mediocre start to a new chapter in the Potter universe.