Matthew Bond in The Mail on Sunday. The eight Harry Potter films earned almost $8bn at the global box office, so no surprise that “the Hollywood machine” found a way to renew that “money-making potential”. What is unexpected, however, is that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the first in a planned series of five spin-off movies set in the same fictional universe as the Potter stories, turns out to be an absolute blast. “From the opening reprise of the instantly recognisable Harry Potter theme tune to an emotional finale that had me – to my astonishment – wiping away a tear, I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.”
A large part of the credit must go to Eddie Redmayne, who delivers a “lovely performance” as the hero of this “terrifically good-natured” movie, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. A character mentioned only in passing in the Potter books, Newt Scamander is a shy, apologetic English wizard, who arrives in 1920s New York (the story takes place long before the birth of a certain boy wizard) clutching a battered briefcase that magically contains a menagerie of fabulous creatures: a kleptomaniac platypus, an intimidating pachyderm called an “erumpent” – that sort of thing. But some of the beasts escape, and Scamander must track them down with the help of a tough-talking witch (Katherine Waterston) and a hapless “non-maj”, or non-magic, human (Dan Fogler), while evading the wizarding world’s sinister chief of police (Colin Farrell). Johnny Depp also makes a “brief but effective” appearance as a saturnine wizard named Gellert Grindelwald, said Geoffrey Macnab in The Independent. But the real “scene-stealers” are the beasts themselves. If you lose track of the often rather bewildering plot, you can bask in the “astonishing special effects”.
This is Rowling’s first stab at screenwriting but you wouldn’t know it, said Cath Clarke in Time Out. Her film not only recaptures the “magic” of the Potter films, it also has a “spooky” contemporary resonance, conjuring an America riven by paranoia and prejudice. Ring any bells? Yet despite these darker elements, it’s all jolly good fun, said Matthew Bond. One of many “comic highlights” is the sight of Redmayne performing a bottom-wiggling mating dance in a wild attempt to lure an erumpent back into his suitcase. “Ah, the highs and lows of an actor’s life, eh, Eddie!” There are some (I’m among them) who find Redmayne’s self-effacing shtick grating, yet here it works well, said Brian Viner in the Daily Mail. I feared Fantastic Beasts would be a hollow exercise, but Rowling has defied my doubts. It is “marvellous escapism”. And given the state of things, that’s exactly what we need right now.