So now we know what the Harry Potter universe looks like without Harry Potter—and it’s not the prettiest picture. J.K. Rowling and director David Yates (who handled the final four cinematic Potter installments) flash back to 1926 New York, where British wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his suitcase full of critters are involved in the possibility that the magical world will be exposed to Non-Maj (Americans’ typically more prosaic term for muggles). Yates’ knack for ever-improving ability to handle action makes for some solid blockbuster spectacle, and there’s a potentially fascinating metaphor here in a destructive force that’s basically a manifestation of being “in the closet” as a wizard. The center simply doesn’t hold, not when the narrative focus is on Redmayne’s fussy performance as Scamander, or disgraced ex-Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). And the focal point that could have made for the best story—working-class Non-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), discovering the world of magic—is relegated mostly to comic-relief sidekickery. The Potter saga was an epic allegorical hero journey; this feels like an excuse to re-visit a world primed for special effects.
Director: David Yates
Producer: David Heyman, J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves, Lionel Wigram, Tim Lewis, Neil Blair and Rick Senat
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, Carmen Ejogo, Jenn Murray, Faith Wood-Blagrove, Colin Farrell, Zoë Kravitz and Johnny Depp