Whether you've read all the Harry Potter books, seen all the Harry Potter movies, or, like many people (except, uhhh... me) done both, you have to admit that plopping the world of muggles and wizards into 1920s New York is a fresh idea. You'd think that J.K. Rowling's world has been exhausted, but fans will most likely be delighted to delve into this new branch of her magical world that expands on the admittedly pretty amazing mythology that she has already created.
The rather preciously-named Newt Scamander (played by the rather precious Eddie Redmayne) has just stepped off the ship into New York with his valise clutched at his side. He travels the world searching for and protecting magical creatures (and fantastic beasts) and has arrived just as a mysterious force has been causing destruction throughout the city. When one of his many critters escapes from his bottomless suitcase, the ensuing chaos throws him together with earnest wizarding officer named Tina (Katherine Waterston) her sweet, flirty sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and a hapless "no-maj" (aka "no magic") human named Jacob (Dan Fogler) who just wants to leave his dreary manufacturing job to start a bakery. As dark, nefarious forces are unleashed in the city, it is up to our foursome to save the world. Or something like that.
As with the Harry Potter films, I often found myself lost in the terminology of this world, as words like erumpent and MAFUSA and Auror are tossed around... half the time I had no idea what people were talking about. But this world is also extremely visual and creative, helping you fill in the gaps with action, or at least fun stuff to look at, while you try to suss together what exactly is going on.
Unlike a lot of releases these days, the special features on the Fantastic Beasts actually enhance the film. With short profiles of all the major characters and creatures, you get more of a peek into how it all fits together. Combine that with J.K. Rowling herself talking about the film, you can't help but start to share her enthusiasm. Seeing how the puppeteers created the fantastic beasts, how Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood helped visualize the looks of not just the main characters but the hundreds of extras, and how 1926 New York was created from a muddy field in the UK... well, it is all rather astonishing. I thought the film was entertaining enough, but these behind-the-scenes peeks were so impressive, that they not only gave me a new appreciation of what I just saw, but actually made me want to watch the film again. (And lucky for us, a series of films is already planned.)