*** stars (out of four)
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling dives into screenwriting with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel in the Potter universe.
Set in the 1920s, the story centers around the awkward British wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Scamander has a briefcase full of magical (and in some cases illegal) creatures. The case accidentally gets swapped with one owned by a non-magical aspiring baker (Dan Fogler). Naturally, creatures are released and chaos ensues. At the same time, a mysterious force is unleashing havoc on New York City and a rogue wizard (Colin Farrell) wants to harness its power and a group of humans (led by Samantha Morton) campaigns against wizards in their midst.
After watching the recent parade of superhero movies, there is something refreshing about a fantasy adventure whose heroes are an oddball eccentric and a schlub. Redmayne and Fogler are appealing as the two male leads. Katherine Waterston and Allison Sudol are also fun as two wizard sisters who aid them in their search. But the villains don’t register as much. The film’s at its best when its four heroes are interacting with each other and the magical creatures. When the plot’s gears grind, it actually slows things down a bit.
Like a lot of the Potter movies, Fantastic Beasts entertains but never reaches the soaring heights of classic adventures.