Directed by: David Yates
Written by: J.K. Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterson, Colin Farell, and Ezra Miller
Five years after the release of the final installment of the Harry Potter series comes the spin-off prologue film that all Potterheads have been holding their breaths for. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them introduces a whole new stride to the Wizarding World, showcasing the American side of J.K. Rowling’s beloved masterpiece.
Set in 1926 New York City, the Wizarding world is in a wreck as Gellert Grindelwald (cue the eyebrow raises from budding Potterheads) the Darkest Wizard of their time, causes serious havoc and tragedy in the Muggle world, placing the majority of the Wizarding world in a state of total panic as they fear for the worse—exposing their magic.
Though it might feel odd to watch a Harry Potter film without the classic cast, Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne stole the show with his portrayal of quirky Newt Scamander, an English wizard with a few tricks up his sleeve—or rather, in his mysterious suitcase—who sets his sights on New York City, a long way from home. Talk about a whole Newt world. He then gets into serious wizardry shenanigans and comes across a Muggle—or No-Maj in the American Wizarding world—aspiring baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Taking a liking for the bumbling but well-meaning No-Maj, Newt brings him along on his adventures. However, Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), an officer for the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) takes notice of Newt and Jacob’s misadventures and slip-ups in the No-Maj world, and a wild goose chase ensues that eventually leads to a deeper hole of trouble and magic.
Rich and multilayered, Fantastic Beasts sets the tone for the fresh series in the Harry Potter franchise. Director David Yates’ stirring rendition made the film have its own unique voice, definitely standing out on its own despite the teary-eyes and gasps right off the bat when the cherished Harry Potter theme started playing in the opening credits. Another gem is the rich and witty dialogue written by Rowling herself. Never before done in the original franchise, the script makes Fantastic Beasts even more remarkable as each line has the touch of charm found in every Harry Potter book.
Unfortunately, misses should be considered among the many hits of the film, as there’s an awful lot going on at the first half and one too many plot developments seem to sprout from every scene. Not to say that the pacing was too fast, but to take a leisurely stroll—not a consistent chase—in the American Wizarding world would have been the perfect treat for Potterheads hungry for a fresh glimpse of Rowling’s ingenious fictional design. Viewers will definitely need to either write down all the plot points awkwardly mixed in together to remember in preparation for the upcoming sequel, or watch the film a second time—which wouldn’t really be such a bad idea.
The magic never really goes away, but it does change. Like the Potterheads who have followed the series from start to finish, the tone of the franchise is now much more grown-up and a lot deeper than the original Harry Potter films. Without losing the same childlike wonder and imagination, viewers will definitely feel Fantastic Beast’s subtle but serious shift of storytelling.
A cult in the film called the New Salem Order goes rampant on the Wizarding community, making their kind hide in fear and even go as far as to obscure their magic to be accepted—a turning point in the film that speaks volumes on society today. Going beyond the Wizarding World and delving into a much deeper and darker worldview, a clear and powerful message of anti-bigotry hides behind the good-natured film. Behind the fantasy and fun promised in Fantastic Beasts is the somber backdrop of oppression and social awareness rife in the 1920’s Wizarding world and still continues up to this day in the real world—now that’s magic.