Newt and Jacob interacting with a Bowtruckle

You might think that J.K. Rowling’s latest foray into the wizarding world is a spell too far, but the sceptical view has already been proved wrong with this first entry into the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them series.

Based on the 2001 book of the same name, the film focuses on the ‘author’ of the book, Newt Scamander, played wonderfully well by Eddie Redmayne, and his adventures in 1920s New York. During the film we’re introduced to the other main characters: Porpentina Goldenstein (Katherine Waterston), an ex-auror demoted to a lowly position, her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), a Legillimens, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) a muggle, or No-Maj as the American wizarding community calls them, whose life is turned completely upside down after meeting Newt. And that’s not all! The rest of the cast is rounded out by the likes of Colin Farrell as one of the most esteemed American Aurors, and Samantha Morton as the leader of an anti-wizard extremist group hoping to have a second wave of Salem witch trials, and Ezra Miller as her severely abused son.

As it’s the first film of five in this new series, much of it is spent setting up this era of the wizarding world and the characters within it, but in doing this it’s not as laborius as The Philosopher’s Stone, perhaps because the studio assumed that the Harry Potter films had already familiarised viewers with the general idea.

But this is the 1920s, seven decades before Harry was even born. Likewise, instead of Voldemort as the big baddie, we have Gellert Grindelwald, Dumbledore’s close friend as a child before they fought over the Deathly Hallows, which we get a slight nod to from Grindelwald himself. The different decade means more than a changeof villain: in the Fantastic 1920s of marriage between wizards/witches and muggles/no-majs is completely forbidden, elves are relegated to menial positions such as doorman or shoe shiner, and any other non-human magical beings are eiher forced into the shadows or exterminated.

What of the beasts themselves? They’re a wonder to behold, ranging from a winged, snake-like creature which changes size to fit the space it’s in, to a platypus-type creature that is obsessed with anything shiny and constantly gets in trouble. The beastly focus allows us to get to know even the lesser known ones are like, and how Newt cares for them. Every scene with beasts in it is a delight to watch.

While the plot was interesting enough (just), it does feel like they’re setting up for the sequels and the storyloine somewhat suffers for it. But there’s no denying this is one of this year’s best films by far.

Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture – © 2016 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved.