I was a late admirer of the Harry Potter film series, just watching them in the past few years, but admiring the style and craft with which they were brought to the screen.
For me, every bit their equal, JK Rowling's return to the Potter world, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM is a terrific film that ranks with the best of the Potter series.
The reliably terrific and full of eccentric twists Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, newly arrived in a bustling 1920's NYC.
He's got a mysterious case at his side full of the fantastic creatures of the title.
After a funny and entertaining mishap at a Muggle, oh wait I mean "No-maj" bank, Newt switches cases with a wannabe baker named Kowalski, winningly played by Dan Fogler (TV's The Goldbergs, Hannibal).
As Newt discovers some great bakery treats, Kowalski unwittingly unleashes many of Newt's creatures on New York City.
As Newt and Kowalski head out to find the creatures, they are drawn into an epic battle between the humans of Manhattan and the wizarding world of the big apple.
Colin Farrell is great as Graves, an authoritarian leader of the wizarding commission who's after Newt while battling an emerging, truly evil force in the city.
Samantha Morton is Mary Lou the lower official constantly trying to capture Newt and a superb Ezra Miller (We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Flash) is the young, poor immigrant Credence Bearbone.
As the two stories collide, Rowling's screenplay peels back layer after layer of surprises, including worlds within worlds, truly fantastic creatures of every size and demeanor and enough evil to give the story some real weight.
At it's center is Redmayne as Newt, creating a powerful, mild character with just as many layers as the story.
David Yates directed four of the best Harry Potter films and he brings his A-game here, bringing Rowling's writings to life. He's set to direct ALL FIVE films in this new series and he's off to a great start.
The music score by James Newton Howard (Catching Fire, The Sixth Sense, The Dark Knight) is fantastic, with just enough themes from John Williams classic Harry Potter scores to remind you that you're playing in the same Rowling universe.
Really enjoyable, visually amazing from beginning to end, FANTASTIC BEASTS lives up to its title and gets an A.