In this post Harry Potter world, there are two things that are certain. For one, anything that is connected to J.K. Rowling’s magical world will absolutely make more money than any of us could possibly fathom. And two, there’s little to nothing that the creators of said content could do to muck that up. That said, the latest installment in the universe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them did their goddamn best to create a new world for us to joyously revel in, overwhelming succeeding in almost every way.
For those just tuning in to the wizarding world, Newt Scamander is an incredible figure that changed the way witches and wizards thought about magical creatures. Rather than allowing fear and ignorance to overtake him, Scamander spends his whole life learning all he can about magical creatures, eventually (literally) writing the book on their properties for the whole world to learn about. The entirety of this film (the first of five, apparently) is spent getting to know Scamander and the way he deals with problems concerning his magical creatures. It’s quite brilliant really, we get a look at the American side of things through Scamander’s travels, learning about a new branch of the wizarding world we never knew existed.
Arriving in New York, Scamander has trouble assimilating to his new surroundings. His reasons for traveling are at best questionable by the American division of the Ministry for Magic, and he quickly lands himself in a load of trouble for befriending a no-maj (i.e., muggle). Scamander soon learns strange things are afoot, getting blamed for a series of unfortunate circumstances due to an accident involving a few of his creatures breaking lose. Shenanigans occur, a villain (or two) arises, and soon Scamander is on his way to saving the day, just like we knew he could.
Scamander (played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne) is both off-putting and agreeable at the same time, loving his creatures so heartily that you can’t help but wish you too had a tiny, adorable, poisonous monster living in your carry on. His charm is reminiscent of our reluctant hero Harry Potter, setting the tone for the unlikely protagonist that will carry on to the end of wizarding kind. Scamander’s motley crew of misfits involves the cheeky, headstrong (and badass, if we’re being honest) ex-auror Tina, her sister the bubbly and clairvoyant Mary-Lou, and no-maj Kowalski. While they’re no Ron, Harry, and Hermoine, they exude a perfection in their balance that becomes a huge part of what makes the movie so enjoyable.
Similar to the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Fantastic Beasts sets the tone for what will eventually be the story we know and love (though without having to sit through garbage like Jar-Jar and whiny Anakin). While at first it feels like they shoehorn in a few Harry Potter references to catch what may be a reluctant fan’s attention, their world building soon pays off. Choosing New York in the 1920’s is a brilliant move, working in prohibition, problems after World War I, and of course fear mongering among the masses. With the world and storyline they’ve created, it seems they’ll be working up to the rise of Voldermort, and perhaps even to that fateful night on October 31st 1981 where this all started. If they can do this right (and they will), there will be never ending intricacies to pay credence to, allowing for all of our lingering questions to be acknowledged, if not answered completely.
Now, while there really was little to complain about, there are some issues that ardently stick out in way that’s hard to ignore. For one there’s the problem of casting Johnny Depp in the role of Gellert Grindelwald, an incredibly important part of the universe as we know it. First off, the accusations against him earlier this year make it hard to accept him as another significant role. Then of course, there’s the problem of his inability to act as anyone other than Jack Sparrow regardless of make-up, prosthetics, or well written script. Depp has gone from “versatile” to unlikable, creating a riff in the believability of the character. I wouldn’t be mad if they recast him, in fact, it seems it would be the right move this early on. Due to the enormity of his role, there’s also the problem of them pulling the trigger early on his storyline. They have five movies to get this right, and it felt ill-conceived to drop him in unannounced in the manner that they do.
That aside, Fantastic Beasts is truly a work of art, sitting directly in line with all the films and literature that came before it. David is Yates is sitting pretty in his role as Harry Potter director-extraordinaire, and while this will never outshine the originals, it will come pretty damn close. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is now playing in a theater near you.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is now playing in theaters everywhere.