Welcome back to the Wizarding World! Oh, how we have missed it. And no, The Cursed Child does not count. Set 70 years before the events of Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts takes us to Wizarding New York in the 1920s. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne ushering in the Age of the Hufflepuffs in style) arrives in the city with a suitcase full of magical creatures. After a classic case of ‘things getting out of hand’ (or rather a case of ‘magical beasts escaping from said suitcase’), he comes into contact with a No-Maj (Muggle) called Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a world war one veteran who harbours a dream of opening his own bakery. As Newt and Jacob’s adventures become entwined, we are introduced to the two remaining members of the quartet: Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol). Tina has just been demoted from her job as an Auror (dark wizard-catcher) at the Magical Congress of the United States of America (or the catchily-named MACUSA), while Queenie is a glamorous mind-reader with a heart of gold. The quartet’s search for Newt’s escaped magical creatures is set to the backdrop of an emerging threat in the Wizarding World. In Europe, a powerful but fanatical wizard called Gellert Grindelwald is on the loose. And in true J.K. Rowling’s fashion, Newt and his new-found friends unwittingly become embroiled in the greater action.
Unlike the Harry Potter films, Fantastic Beasts is afforded two significant advantages: there is no source material for the fans to compared the film to, and with J.K. Rowling as the screenwriter, her stamp is all over the finished product. Fantastic Beasts is by no means a flawless film (there are shifts in tones which can be a little disconnecting), but it shines when it comes to the magic, the characters, the humour and the heart. You cannot help but be invested in Newt, Tina, Jacob and Queenie. All the romances and the burgeoning friendships are made even more endearing by the chemistry between the Big Four. They are also helped by a strong host of supporting characters. Colin Farrell is simply brilliant as the mysterious, suave, and menacing Percival Graves. Carmen Ejogo’s President Seraphina Piquery leaves us wanting more, and Ezra Miller gives a dark, disturbing turn as the tortured Credence Barebone. As Newt’s personal quest becomes more and more connected to the bigger events in the Wizarding World, the prospect of four more films in the franchise starts becoming a more appealing one.
Fantastic Beasts has all the heart and warmth of the Harry Potter films. However, what sets it apart is how grown-up and dark it can become. Rowling has never shied away from the more serious themes in her Potter books; reading them, you cannot deny the obvious parallels to world war two and the facist aspects of Voldemort’s character. But in Fantastic Beasts, the film veers into much darker territories than The Philosopher’s Stone, the first in the Harry Potter franchise. In Fantastic Beasts, evil is not as clear cut. We were never compelled to sympathise with Voldemort, but from what we know of Grindelwald and his past with Albus Dumbledore, the road ahead might not be as black and white as it was in the Potter films. And leave it to Jo Rowling to explore issues of division and fear of the other in the magical world of the roaring 20s!
Thankfully, Fantastic Beasts never becomes bogged down by its more serious themes. The lightness, humour and heart of the characters keep the film balanced and charming. It also paves the way for more intriguing stories to be told in future instalments. Never has a Wizarding film been so entertaining, poignant and delightful.
Other Thoughts [SPOILERS]:
- Did anyone catch Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange? Whoever Leta Lestrange is (a “taker”, according to Queenie), I am very much intrigued! It is fascinating to imagine what kind of relationship a guy like Newt has with a Lestrange.
- Colin Farrell is deliciously excellent as Percival Graves. Come on. The coat. The scarf. The wand work. Don’t you wish they’d just keep him around a little longer? I for one would not have a problem with him playing Gellert Grindelwald instead of Johnny Depp.
- The farewell scene between Newt and Tina is glorious. We know that these two end up together, but how will they ever cross paths again? We need answers now!
- Except for that scene between Queenie and Newt, we are not given much information about our hero’s background. There are mentions of a famous brother, his expulsion from Hogwarts, and the mysterious Leta Lestrange, but I suspect that there are more of Newt’s past to be revealed in future films. And I have a feeling that not everything will be pretty.
- Is Credence truly dead? There is a shot of a wisp of black smoke floating away. Does this mean that Credence exists without a body, in a pre-Goblet of Fire Voldemort fashion? Or having Ezra Miller back for future films might be too good to be true?
- There are some long, meaningful looks between Percival and Tina which caught my attention. Is there more between them? Or was it just me imagining things?
- Ariana Dumbledore. Are the Obscurus and the character of Credence clues to what befell Dumbledore’s sister during the confrontation between Albus, Aberforth, and Grindelwald? I cannot wait for Rowling to delve more into Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s past.
RATING: 4/5 stars.
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