First off, let’s all get one thing straight. This is not a new Harry Potter movie. I’m hesitant to even say this is a new movie in the world of Harry Potter. No character that was in any of the Harry Potter movies actually appears in this movie. There is a brief mention of a teacher at Hogwarts named Albus Dumbledore, but that’s it. This movie is set 70 years before Harry Potter, in the same world that the Harry Potter movies exist.
It may seem like I’m splitting hairs with that description, but I feel like it’s an important distinction to make. Establishing expectations could be the difference between enjoying this movie and not enjoying it. I think that if you go in expecting another “Harry Potter” movie, then you may be disappointed. If you go in expecting to see witches and wizards and magic, and magical beings that you’ve seen before, then you will likely enjoy this movie.
The main story follows Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne), who has come to New York with his briefcase full of magical creatures. After a series of shenanigans with one of the creatures, Newt runs into a n0-mag named Kowalski. No-mag, or whatever the official spelling is, is the American equivalent to muggle. They inadvertantly swap briefcases, and that is when several of the creatures that live in Newt’s briefcase escape.
Newt also meets Tina (played by Katherine Waterston), who tries to arrest him for illegally transporting magical beasts. They are outlawed in America. She gets ignored by her superiors, who have more important business to attend to, and ends up assisting Newt in his attempt to round up the escaped beasts.
There’s also a side story involving an organization called the New Salem Philanthropic Society. This is an anti-magic group led by Mary Lou (Samantha Morton), who is trying to convince the citizens of New York that witches are real, and they should be eradicated. There’s more to this story, which also involves the lead magical investigator Graves (Colin Farrell), but I don’t want to get too spoilery in this review.
Do you remember in the Harry Potter movies how the first two were fairly light-hearted affairs, with nothing too serious? And then in the third movie, things suddenly get real. This movie is kind of like the third movie. There are plenty of enjoyable, light moments. But there’s some really serious things going on as well. There is one scene in particular that comes to mind. I won’t say who is a part of it, but there is a death penalty scene where the American wizards sentence someone to die.
I bring it up because it was a very serious, and slightly uncomfortable thing to think about. But, it was uncomfortable in the way that some historical facts are uncomfortable to think about. You look back on it and think, how could our ancestors ever think this was okay. That’s how I felt watching this execution. It was sad and depressing, but it provided a historical context for the time and setting of the movie.
I greatly enjoyed this movie. I felt like they did a wonderful job of throwing in enough familiar nods to the Harry Potter movies, while still making a movie that felt like its own movie, and is capable of standing on its own. You do not really need any prior knowledge about the Harry Potter movies to enjoy this movie. It may be concerning that earlier it was announced that this was the first of 5 planned movies, and that may seem intimidating to start with. There have been a few movies recently that seemed like they were expanded just to be expanded, and were not complete movies on their own. I assure you, like the previous Harry Potter movies, even though Deathly Hollows was 2 parts, this movie is a complete movie. It tells the story that it wants to tell, and then wraps up neatly. Yes, there are hints at the overarching story, but you will not leave the theater wondering where the rest of the movie is. So, go see this movie. I doubt that you’ll regret it.