The year is 1926 and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident…were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds. (source)
I can’t believe I’ve never seen this film before. I, a thirty year old fan of Harry Potter since the tender age of eleven, never saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2017, dir. David Yates) at the cinema. Absolutely shameful. That’s why I had to include this film as part of my Blindspot series for 2018. Will my undying love for this franchise bias my view on the film, or will it set me up for a huge disappointment?
It must be especially difficult to write something new within an already established and extremely popular fictional universe. The Harry Potter cinematic and literary phenomenon is a special one because of the breadth of it success, and the fact that there were seven books and eight films to get to know and love all of the characters. In relation to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the good news is that the film stands up nicely as its own story within the context of the wider franchise. It is a very charming addition and expansion to what we know about the Harry Potter universe, and as a massive nerd, it was quite exciting to see a different wizarding population in a different part of the world. The story of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is not only located in a different time period, with all the gorgeous creative aspects that the 1920s affords, but also teaches us about wizarding life in the United States of America – fascinating (for me), given the country’s tumultuous history with witches (see: Salem witch trials). It communicates a new feeling of danger and risk, in contrast to what we already know about the wizarding universe within an English context; in the USA, witches and wizards were hunted and forced underground. Another piece of good news, is that this all feels completely believable. It’s comfortable viewing, even though some moments can have horror influences and feel somewhat scary.
The new characters we are presented with – Newt Scamander (Redmayne), Tina (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and no-maj (AKA muggle, AKA non magic person) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) – are really likeable and form quite a wholesome team who are actually enjoyable in their interactions with one another. The good news is that the film is surprisingly well acted (perhaps I’m used to the child acting of the original eight films in the franchise). Eddie Redmayne in particular conveys a magizoologist (magic animal specialist) who is somewhat socially awkward yet passionate about the rights of the beasts in his care, and Dan Fogler as no-maj Jacob conveys a congruent sense of wonder and awe at the amazing and unbelievable things he is witnessing as a result of helping Scamander in his quest. Supporting actors Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell were also highlights. I loved watching this group of characters together and I’m really happy to see that this established crew will be returning in some form in the new Fantastic Beasts film which is due for release this year.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was almost surprisingly enjoyable. Whilst it’s not all positive, as some aspects of the ending are a total deus ex machina cop-out, and some moments of the film were slightly difficult to follow, on the whole I enjoyed this immensely. It may be because of my undying love for the Harry Potter universe. But ultimately, one enters the world of this film knowing that you’re not settling down to watch the newest Oscar winner or high art film. This film is very different to the remainder of the films in the franchise, being a lot darker and requiring us to form relationships with the characters much more quickly. But overall, it’s a comfortable return to a beloved franchise, with an exciting story and the promise of more follow-up films which are hopefully just as good.
Watch the trailer here.