Based on a “textbook” written by Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a tome supposedly part of the curriculum at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the film recounts the adventures of a wizard/explorer who has set out in the mid-1920’s to catalogue and collect as many oddball, magical creatures as he can find. His first stop is New York City, and he’s able to achieve his goal with a leather bag that Felix the Cat would be envious of. No matter the size or number, all sorts of animals can fit in the satchel as well as find the appropriate climate in which they can thrive. (The cavernous catchall provides some of the movie’s most impressive and imaginative visual moments.)
Problem is, Scamander is a bit scatterbrained and accidentally changes cases with a baker named Jacob (Dan Fogler), who’s pretty clueless once various creatures start popping out of it. Of course, chaos ensues, and the two men along with Tina (Katherine Waterston), a security officer for the Magical Congress of the United States of America, and her mindreading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) set out to recapture the various beasties before they wreck total havoc on the city. Unfortunately, they cross paths with Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) and his partner Credence (Ezra Miller), who are keeping watch of all these goings-on for their own mysterious purposes.
Under the watchful and artful eye of veteran director Peter Yates (and with a $180 million budget at his disposal), the film is as visually rich and sumptuous as any other in the previous series. The various creatures are truly wondrous, while the period details and meticulous attention paid to the minutest elements pays off in creating a seemingly palpable sense of place that goes a long way towards melding the believable to the fantastic. Repeat viewings will surely reveal delights not noticed the first time around, there’s so much to take in.
It’s obvious that “Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who penned the screenplay and is on board to write the other four proposed entries in the series, is busy world-building here. Graves’ intentions will obviously be explored further while the anti-witchcraft movement led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) is ripe for further development and may well prove to be a bastion for the franchise’s various baddies. Also, the story’s grand dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald obviously will have a bigger role as things progress by virtue of his single foreboding appearance and the fame of the actor who portrays him.
However, the one thing future installments must do is provide more background for Scamander, as the surface of his backstory is only scratched here. Redmayne is not only a capable performer but an extremely likable one as well, who will continue to foster our sympathy as more of his character’s history is revealed. As it stands, Beasts is a worthy successor to the Potter franchise, one bursting with potential that viewers will be eager to see realized.
For reviews of Edge of Seventeen and Arrival, visit the Cinemascoping blog at http://illinoistimes.com.