The year is 1926 and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has just finished a world trip to locate and archive an assortment of magical creatures. Arriving in New York City, he might have had a pleasantly uneventful stay if it were not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a lost magical case whose escaped contents are of the fantastical kind; trouble for both the Muggle and wizarding worlds. It has to be said, Warner Bros with the help of the creatives did a grand job with the Harry Potter books, even if they weren’t completely accurate, oh the horror; a Hollywood movie that isn’t 100% book accurate.
They gave us eight great movies and I couldn’t be more pleased. The magical communities of Great Britain have been fleshed out well through seven books and eight movies. Now we cross the Atlantic to the United States of America. In 1920s America, the wizarding community is on a knife-edge. Every Potterhead should know the name Grindelwald, and he’s been wreaking havoc across Europe. Meanwhile, an Englishman travels to New York, carrying Narnia in a case. Sorry Hermione, but your bag is pale in comparison.
The film begins with polemic newspaper headlines, against the renowned dark wizard Grindelwald. From the get-go, the wizarding world is infested with sociopolitical anxieties. This is expanded upon on when Newt’s creatures wreak havoc in Central Park, 42nd Street and other places around The Big Apple. The No-Maj community know something is up but magic and witches is simply too ludicrous to entertain. Or is it? There are also anonymous magical threats cropping up throughout the city. The Magical Congress of the United States (American Ministry of Magic) is looking for the guilty party, and they blame the man with the beasts, a role that Eddie Redmayne was born for.
With the assistance of Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a disgraced auror and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), they must clear Newt’s name and put all his creatures back into the case. This movie has lots of great moments but you realise from the start that this is going to be dark franchise. The Harry Potter series didn’t get properly dark until Prisoner Of Azkaban. Fantastic Beasts’ first scene makes you think “well that escalated quickly” and the reveal of Grindelwald only tells us that this is only going to get darker in the sequels to come.
As prequels go, I truly believe it is fantastic…excuse the pun. It’s very much part of the Harry Potter universe, yet it is its own story. There’s Easter Eggs galore, like the references to the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore and the Lestrange family to name a few. Now that I have watched the film in both 2D and 3D formats, I have to say it’s a better viewing experience in the latter. 3D is a must as you get more out of the movie’s special and visual effects. The CGI creatures and the world in Scamander’s case is sensational.
How do you make a Potterverse film without Harry Potter? This latest addition to the franchise is a living breathing example of how, and I enjoyed it a lot more than its predecessors. Penned by J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter books), directed by David Yates (Deathly Hallows) and starring Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (Danish Girl), I could not see how they could possibly go wrong. I have been waiting for this movie since the announcement and it is worth every bit of hype. Much alike Lewis (Narnia), Tolkien (Middle Earth) and Martin (Westeros) before her, J.K. Rowling’s world-building skills are pure genius, and to continue the Potterverse in such a fashion has to be applauded.
Aside from the “Escaped Beasts” story arc, we had the socially stimulating “anti-witchcraft” story which followed Ezra Miller (Suicide Squad) as Credence Barebone, Colin Farrell’s Graves and everything surrounding them. Miller plays this shy quiet boy and an abuse victim at the hands of his adoptive-mother; the leader of the Second Salemers, an anti-witchcraft society in the city. Graves is a snake and there’s more to him than meets the eye…literally. The characters he interacts with are in high positions in the US Magic Congress, such as Madame President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo). Ejogo (Selma) gives a good performance with her limited screen time.
With the converging plotlines, this movie also exposes issues within our own world, incorporating humanity’s tolerance of: intolerance, fear and bigotry into main storyline. I think the biggest conundrum that people will have is “will the movie live up to the hype, or to the legendary status of Harry Potter?” and my answer is yes, and then some more. I feel utterly at ease and your childhood memories of Harry Potter will still be intact. Another criticism that people had is if Rowling and Warner Bros are milking the franchise for more money and profit. I’m inclined to agree with that point but if they make five more movies as good as this one, who am I to complain? Who cares if they’re milking it? As long as the movies are good, it does not matter.
With the ending of Fantastic Beasts begs the demand of Dumbledore V Grindelwald in the sequel and the introduction of a younger Aberforth Dumbledore with their sister Ariana. With excellent performances, wonderful period costumes design, an ace script and a nostalgic musical score (James Newton Howard), Fantastic Beasts should be on everyone’s watch list this winter.