Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is a long awaited, eagerly anticipated edition to the colossally successful Harry Potter franchise; the first spin off series from a set of books and movies that just demand further exploration in to such a deep, well built Universe, and for fans of the original series, it is unlikely to disappoint.
Wrought with the same enchanting, bewitching charm that was such a staple of the original films, Fantastic Beasts will have just as broad an appeal, and likely transcend the typical age range attributed to this genre. The film is as jovial and buoyant as the first two Harry Potter films, but at times there is evidence of a darker underbelly – witch hunts, wars and the rise of intolerant ideologies – that could add a level of gritty realness to the Potter series. David Yates – the director behind this film, the planned four sequels and the final four editions of the main Harry Potter Series – took the helm at the 5th film, The Order of The Phoenix, when there was little world building to be done, and by which point the franchise was in darker, more adult territory. That means that until now we’ve yet to see him approach Potter with the same cheery, magical allure that Christopher Columbus did so successfully with the first two Harry Potter movies, but with Fantastic Beasts he proves himself more than capable and, more importantly, at his 5th time behind the wheel of the franchise, he shows he has not became complacent or stale, but still manages to maintain a similar style.
The acting is exceptional; Yates has worked with some of the worlds most revered actors in the four films in the main series that he directed, but the script for Fantastic Beasts – penned by author of the original series JK Rowling, allows a smaller cast more opportunities to shine. Eddie Redmayne brings depth and finesse to a character who could easily be lost amongst quirks in place of character traits, and Ezra Miller proves once again that he is one of the brightest young talents of his generation; we should expect no less from Oscar Winner Eddie Redmayne, but Miller could easily be an Oscar contender himself one day. In Katherine Waterson the film found a solid leading lady, but not a typical one, and she performs with subtlety and nuance. Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler are arguably there for comic relief, but so well balanced are the light and the dark elements of the narrative that they are not strictly comic relief, and get there own time to shine outside of that, too. The pair even manage to make an arguably implausible relationship seem like a natural, unavoidable occurrence, and offer great gratification upon its conclusion.
New York is an adequate but underused setting; we get such brief glimpses of The Big Apple in the Roaring Twenties that they’re less roaring, more whimpering, which is a shame, because in sequences that see a typical, magic version of a flapper-girl and the magical equivalent to a seedy back Alley bar, it enchants and enamours, and the bright lights of the big city streets make for an exceptional back drop to the final battle wrought there. Often, though, the excitement is confined to the fictional, or the largely unfamiliar; Central Park Zoo could have been any zoo, and the MACUSA head quarters, though they have a distinctly Art-Deco aesthetic, are not so exciting as a magical battle fought in a more iconic environment. It is a trivial thing to complain about, and will have little effect on the outcome of the film, but it’s shame to see such an exciting period seem easily replaced by pretty much anywhere else.
The shift in setting and time period means there is still world building be done here, so expect significant exposition, and the sheer amount of world building done seems to indicate that we should expect a similar setting for future films, despite a final surprise twist – and confirmation that Potter favourite Professor Albus Dumbledore will appear in the sequel – indicating it will take us down a route that should, given all prior knowledge of the subject, lead directly to Europe.
The subplots fit well; they’re not shoe horned in amongst the main plot, and they don’t seem tangential to the main narrative, either, though some will surely find it that way, and by the end they’re all tied together nicely, and lay the foundations for what could be some key themes going forth in the franchise.
Fitting equally well in to the narrative is the obvious metaphors for intolerance and oppression, from the subtle (Newt remarking America’s “Backwards” laws prohibited a marriage between a Witch or Wizard and a Muggle), to the over-arching theme of the rise of intolerant, anti-liberal ideologies, which are prevalent and poignant in todays society. There are even extremists groups – the Second Salemers, who intend to eradicate the presence of witches and wizards throughout America – whose propaganda and extremism becomes validated by fear, as the titular Fantastic Beasts that Newt unleashes accidentally on New York spread terror through the No-Maj (The American equivalent of “Muggle”, aka a none magic being) city like wild fire.
The ending, an exciting twist, could be taken either way; whilst it certainly shocks, and will in still the audience with a desire to see more from the franchise, and an understanding of where the franchise is heading, part of it seems like it could have been a late edition to the plot, added in the edit upon a round of pick ups once sequels where commissioned, and for a film that so successfully stands alone from the original Harry Potter franchise and from the spin-off franchise it will itself go on to create, the twists greatest achievement is not in delivering a satisfying ending, but in setting up a new beginning. Its impact could have been better if it was built up to just a little bit more but, to put is as vague as possible, the mentions that made this twist significant were few and far between, and so for anyone who popped out for a pee during the movie, or was momentarily distracted by a ringing mobile or a quest to the bottom of a bag for more movie snacks, its significance could easily be missed.
Don’t be surprised to see a sudden surge in Wands, Figures and cuddly Niffler’s on Christmas Lists year. Even without Harry Potter, the world he inhabited is back, and it’s as good as ever.
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