Welcome back to the Wizarding World, Muggles. J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts is a worthy follow-up to the eight-part Harry Potter series, and an entry that is sure to reinvigorate the fandom theorizing days of yesteryear.
First, let’s appreciate this moment, because it’s been over three years since the original announcement was made and we can’t forget how big of a deal it is: J.K. Rowling has written a new movie set in the Wizarding World, and it’s leading up to the Global Wizarding War which ends in an epic duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald. OMG. Wow. Okay. Moving on…
It’s 1926 and Newt has taken a ship to America to return a beast — a Thunderbird — to its native home of Arizona. The plan to make it a quick visit rapidly evolves into a longer stay when Newt accidentally lets a few of his beasts out of the case. This seriously displeases the Magical Congress of the United States of America, who insists on Wizards and Witches keeping their powers a secret from non magical folk.
‘Fantastic Beasts’ review
It’s hard to tell that a first time screenwriter penned Fantastic Beasts, but can you even be surprised when it’s J.K. Rowling who’s putting the pen to paper? The author moves Fantastic Beasts along at a nice (if occasionally wasteful) pace as she juggles intriguing storylines, humor, darkness, and the future.
Said storylines don’t necessarily come to a close at the end of the movie, and by the end of it you’ll find yourself eager for the second (and third and fourth and fifth). More on that in a moment.
Appropriately, Rowling’s story presents messages that are relevant nearly a century later: Treat animals better. Orphanages are not okay. Why do certain groups of people have to hide in the shadows? Why can’t we treat everyone equally? What is right and what is wrong? These themes keep the movie grounded in reality, making them worth pondering long after you exit the theater.
On the animal treatment front, Newt’s passion for beasts fits nicely with his bashful and geeky attitude. It’s impossible to imagine anyone besides Eddie Redmayne in this role after seeing the Oscar-winning actor in the role. He’s adorable and a true Harry Potter fan. We couldn’t ask for more.
The series will only be successful in the longterm if Rowling can make audiences care about the various new characters (namely Newt, Jacob, Queenie, and Tina). That way, fans come back for Movie 2 and beyond. At the charity screening where I saw the movie, Rowling said she quickly fell in love with these characters, but will audiences feel the same way?
The answer is yes, at least a couple of them. By the end I was tearing up over Jacob (Dan Fogler), the Muggle. Jacob! A Muggle! Who would’ve guessed I’d get upset over and care most for a No-Maj in a Wizarding World movie? The arc Rowling builds for Jacob is tremendous as he discovers the world of magic for the first time. His fascination reminds me of the early Harry Potter movies, where everything Harry, Ron, and Hermione experienced at Hogwarts was new to them.
Amongst the main four, Jacob actually has the most development in the movie, and that’s a bit of a problem. You’d think we’d learn most about Newt in the first outing. In future films, hopefully, we’ll get to learn a lot more about the Magizoologist, Tina, and Queenie.
There are a few flaws in Rowling’s screenplay. For example, MACUSA’s interest in keeping Wizards and Witches out of the way of No-Majs isn’t fully fleshed out. Okay, Seraphina and her government don’t want the two types of people to mix, but why? MACUSA’s issues are not explained enough to warrant such an angry response to Newt causing trouble. To get more information, one must visit Pottermore.com and read additional writing by Rowling about Rappaport’s Law.
Then there’s the former Auror Tina, who is shockingly flat. The character is very boring and the acting is lazy. I don’t know if we should blame Rowling or actress Katherine Waterston for the issues here.
The pacing in the movie could’ve been a lot better, and will hopefully be improved in future movies. I didn’t love how much time was spent on recapturing the beasts that fell out of Newt’s suitcase. I was more interested in the dark forces rather than “two more beasts to capture!” and “one more beasts to capture!” (I’m paraphrasing, but they do count down to remind us that this film is moving along).
Also frustrating: How much time was spent on a little beast called the Niffler. Yes, the creature is adorable, but there were too many scenes where we we’re supposed to sit back and watch him be cute.
I’m sure Rowling’s filmmaking skills will only improve from here. Cursed Child may’ve left a bad taste in your mouth over the summer, but Fantastic Beasts will cleanse the palette, leaving you with a delicious new treat from the Harry Potter writer. And yes, despite being set in the 1920’s, it does feel quite new. It’s refreshing to see the Wizarding World purely from the perspective of adult wizards and witches (who, evidently, rely on apparition a LOT).
Most importantly, Rowling has introduced several intriguing characters, forms of magic, and loose ends which are sure to leave fandom theorizing for months, as if this is a new Harry Potter book. Adding to the fun, the same-day release of the script book is sure to give us additional material to dive into, as Rowling said at last weekend’s Lumos charity event that her script is more detailed than a typical script.
By the end of the film you’ll be hit with a Harry Potter-level twist that left my audience gasping and applauding. Welcome back to the days of JKR-penned bombshells, everyone.
A second or third re-watch of the movie should turn up foreshadowing about certain elements that we may’ve missed on first watch. Surely there are other easter eggs that will make more sense in Fantastic Beasts 2 and beyond — teasing the future is sorta Rowling’s thing. And so are numbers! This writer got giddy when a “12” was referenced.
Rowling has successfully brought her novel writing skills into the world of filmmaking, and the Harry Potter fandom is sure to feel reinvigorated. I can’t wait to watch this movie again and continuing analyzing it.
‘Fantastic Beasts’ review: A-
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