Nostalgia is one of the most human of follies. It is hopeful and infectious, and instantly relatable. It is also gullible and easy prey to hungry artists (read filmmakers) who often stop at nothing to make an impression on the minds of the masses who enter a dark hall, hoping to find something to take back home after the film.
But David Yates's Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them rises above the nostalgic tropes we so easily associate with Harry Potter, 'the boy who lived' -- especially in the hearts and minds of the children, now fledgling adults, who grew up reading or watching him.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is an adaptation of JK Rowling's book by the same name. The book is supposed to be a copy of the textbook Harry and other Hogwarts students receive as part of their textbooks set in First year.
It is written by Magizoologist Newt Scamander, who travelled the world exploring and studying magical beasts of all shades and measures, before compiling his findings in a book. The book also lays out an introduction to Newt. The film uses this as its foundation and builds upon it. And quite wonderfully so.
However, it is not a tale of his travels. The film is set in post war New York of the 20's, with its jazz parlours, cocktail gowns, murky business magnates and loathsome senators.
It starts with suggestive newspaper clippings announcing acts of terror unleashed upon the magical world by a Gellert Grindelwald (Yes, he's part of it too!), thus subtly laying down the timeframe and context of the story, which works well both for those familiar with the Potter-universe as well as new joinees.
As promised, fantastic beasts abound from the very beginning as a twitchy, unsure Newt Scamander (played agreeably by Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne) walks into New York with an enchanted suitcase full of magical creatures. Ones to look out for are the thieving Niffler, who nicks jewellery and the the insecure Bowtruckle with abandonment issues.
It is also revealed that New York is under attack of some devious miscreant, obviously magical, that burrows through streets and buildings, wreaking havoc among No-Majs. (That's American for 'Muggles' or non magic folk). As the film hastily yet effectively establishes itself, more characters come into play, adding further dimensions to the film.
But the show is stolen, with conviction, by Jacob Kowalski (played with thoughtful sensitivity by Dan Fogler), the aspiring No-Mag baker who gets caught up in Scamander's world of crazy creatures and dark magic.
From the very beginning, the film hints at the sinister realities of the times the characters live in, with subtle allusions to fascism and xenophobia and more direct references to animal cruelty that could easily be applicable to the non-magic world we inhabit.
Unlike the Harry Potter films, it is not a young boy who is the protagonist but rather what appears to be a man, stuck in boyhood. Redmayne's perfectly manufactured gait and naturally earnest eyes bring out the oddity of Scamander's character.
However the character of the main female lead Porpentia Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) was uninspiring, to say the least. Waterston delivers a watered down performance as discharged detective Goldstein, who fails to become anything but a sidekick to our unlikely hero.
Ezra Miller, who mesmerised audiences as the sensitive gay highschool Senior in Perks Of Being A Wallflower, plays the role of Credence, the gangly and dark son of Mary Lou Barebone (the puritanical anti-witch crusader played by Samantha Morton) but fails to bring out the dark demons lurking suggestively under Credence's pale exterior.
In sharp contrast to the mousy Redmayne and clammy Miller, Colin Farrell, who plays the character of Percival Graves, a high level official at the Ministry of Magic (version USA, with an African American 'President, et al), is suave and powerful.
The subtlety with which he delivers the formidable drama his character espouses, especially in a particular interrogation scene after Newt is apprehended by the Ministry, almost takes your breath away. In an otherwise bare role, Farrell brings in an element of relishable menace. His chemistry with Miller's Credence is also one to watch out for.
But Fogler's Jacob Kowalski remains the best performer in the film as the bungling funny-man as well as the awestruck initiate. His nervous enthusiasm is that of the audience itself. watching the film, unsure of what to expect in this new Harry Potter universe, sans Potter and his troupe.
But Fantastic Beasts does not fail to pique the interest of audiences, fan or not. JK Rowling debuts as the sole screenplay-writer, and the product is a tight film, that does not dwell on what it is missing but rather explores new territory with urgent agency.
The easy predictability of the script leaves audiences a bit wanting since the main plot twist is easily foreseeable from a very early stage. But what it lacks in script, it makes up for in editing and performance, and a well measured dose of the original Potterverse.
It is a film that will appeal to fans of the Harry Potter series, who get just enough steam to run on till the next installment from the Rowling stables.
But it is also complete as an independent film with its very fantastic and shimmering creatures, its politics, its old-timey jazz background scores, the age battle between good and evil forces, and the earnest characters who along with the beasts, make the story come to life.
P.S. Watch out for a 15 second cameo by Johnny Depp, which acts as a titillating trailer of what can be expected from the rest of the four films set to follow 'Fantastic Beasts'.