Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the film adaptation of the book of the same name and is a prequel to the Harry Potter films.

Set in 1926, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) travels to New York from England with a case full of magical creatures that he wishes to protect from extermination and show the magical community that these animals are not something to be feared. Upon his arrival in New York, Newt finds himself rounding up his creatures while the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA) pursues him as a dark force threatens to expose wizardry to non-magical people.

As the ninth installment of what is now being called J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them stands among the best of the franchise. Rowling shines in her screenwriting debut as she expands her world with amazing creatures, lovable characters, and an invigorating story. This is no amateur script; Rowling shows that she knows her way around screenwriting by making characters the audience can care about. The standout performance is Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, a No-Maj (the American term for a non-magical person) who gets caught up in Newt’s adventure. Fogler delivers such beautiful soul into this comic relief character, and he never overstays his welcome for one second. There is even a moment in the third act that proves Fogler earns the audience’s emotional investment and will leave them wanting more of his character. Rowling crafted Kowalski with admirable expertise to create one of the best side characters in the entire franchise.

The entire main cast delivers exceptional performances and they never lose their touch at any point. Eddie Redmayne shines in the starring role as this quirky, compassionate wizard who wants nothing more than to keep the creatures he studies safe. Katherine Waterston has excellent chemistry with Redmayne as Tina Goldstein, a MACUSA investigator who initially intends to apprehend Newt but helps him protect his creatures. Colin Farrell gives one of the highlights of his career as Percival Graves, the main antagonist.

Something prequels and remakes fail in is their inability to stand on their own, in that audiences won’t fully understand the plot and the film’s own universe unless they see the original material upon which they are based. Fantastic Beasts does the opposite; you can watch this movie and enjoy it on its own. You do not have to see all eight Harry Potter films as a prerequisite to this movie. Yes, there are a couple of objects and names that fans of the franchise will see and smile over, but they do not play a great significance in the main story, so anyone who is new to this world won’t question it or what it means.

There is only one major problem with the entire movie. The film immediately opens with an onslaught of non-verbal exposition that the audience is expected to take in, but it moves so quickly, the only thing most will get out of it is a name that is vital to the climax. This character’s background could have been explored more in a short prologue so that when he does appear on-screen, the audience gets more out of it and what this person means to the story.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is an exceptional film with an outstanding screenplay by J.K. Rowling, bright performances, and will leave audiences wanting more from this new prequel series. A-

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