The magic is back.
Five years after the end of one of the best book to movie franchises of all time, J.K. Rowling brings audiences a thrilling new addition to her incredible world. And just like before, it’s kid friendly with some very intense adult themes.
Fantastic Beasts follows Newt Scamander (Eddie Raymond), an oft-mentioned character from Harry Potter’s school years for writing the definitive encyclopedia on magical animals. He’s come to 1920s New York under the guise of purchasing some illicit magical animals from an illegal breeder. He’s spotted and stopped by former Auror Tina (Katherine Waterston) who brings him in for questioning after one of his animals breaks loose. But Newt has unwittingly switched his suitcase with a local No-Mag (the American term for ‘muggle’), Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who also unwittingly, opens the suitcase, releasing many of the animals onto Manhattan.
This is the first storyline. The second follows Detective Graves (Colin Farrell) as he trails a mysterious beast that is causing havoc across New York. Coincidentally, at the same time Newt’s case is opened.
What is really fantastic about Fantastic Beasts is the wonder it brings back to the series. Just like the early books and movies, this is uncharted territory. And we get to experience some amazing creatures through the eyes of Kowalski, who really sells the green screen puppets he’s interacting with. It’s that sense of discovery, mixed with a slight amount of danger and slapstick buddy comedy, that sells the film. The world is incredibly detailed too, from Newt’s office/zoo inside his suitcase, to the building that houses the Magical Congress of the United States of America. It’s only a tiny inkling of this American world of magic, but the potential for further believable tales is immense.
As in all Harry Potter movies, there’s a darkness lurking around the edges. The aforementioned beast terrorizing New York is only created by a child who has been forced, or chooses to repress their magical capabilities. Viewers will quickly point towards the Second Salemers, a small fringe group looking to convince the public that witches walk among us. From Graves’ self-serving promises to his informant to the beast itself, a parasitic like dark cloud that can destroy most everything, Fantastic Beasts is one of the more existentially horrifying entries into the magical world.
But the main characters keep us from falling into fear, taking equal comic relief duties or heroic action duties. They are likable, relatable, and most of all, fun. I was worried the one No-Mag would really drag the movie down, but he’s actually one of the best parts of the film.
And speaking of best parts, I do believe that we have the first representation of a wizard on the autism spectrum in this universe. Feel free to disagree with me, but Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Newt Scamander screamed this at me. He rarely looks other characters in the eyes, he mentions being a loner in school, his focus is almost singularly on his animals, and when he does look someone in the eye for longer than five seconds, it’s at one of his animals. His words are few but they are precise. I think many children will go to this film and see themselves represented on screen for the very first time. Or represented as a hero for the first time.
I could mention tiny quibbles with Beasts. Like how I definitely side with the humans. (Magical animals are clearly dangerous you guys!) But that would just be pointless. Fantastic Beasts is a great entry into J.K. Rowling’s immense universe. The two twists are well advertised if you’re watching for them, the visuals are amazing, the new heroes are lovingly crafted, and there are clear sequels ready to land every two years. If it doesn’t cast a spell on you, you’re probably already a magician who’s seen it all before.
3 out of 4 stars