With an explosion of mischief and mayhem that absolutely dazzles, the wizarding world we know and love is back. Taking us across to New York and back in time to the Roaring Twenties, Rowling, with her own screenplay, shows us the realm of Harry Potter like we’ve never seen it before – but with just enough of Harry’s world to remind us why we were so excited for this next instalment of wizardry.
Eddie Redmayne plays the nerdy, unassuming, and slightly bumbling magizoologist, Newt Scamander and has the viewer in hysterics within the first 10 minutes. Newt is an animal lover (or rather, magical creature lover) who researches the rarest magical creatures; he is desperate for his wizarding peers to admire their magnificence and allow them their freedom instead of killing them in fear. Newt is very like a modern day animal rights activist: simply replacing the phrase ‘magical creature’ with ‘endangered species’ gives the film a relevance you didn’t know it had. Unpopular politicians, corrupt politics, and harsh law enforcement make the film feel even more familiar.
The plot took its time to establish its foundations and was perhaps a little slow leading us into the depths of the story but this actually worked in its favour; it’s not a quick job encouraging the audience to sympathise with a new set of characters after we’ve grown so attached to Rowling’s originals. Redmayne, however, engages with Newt as deeply as he engaged with the real-life roles of Stephen Hawking and Lili Elbe. He captures perfectly Newts charmingly awkward social skills, the affinity he has for his creatures, and his oneness with the natural world –from his carefully crafted movements and mannerisms to his mimicry of mating rituals. He encapsulates the heart of the story – Newt’s interactions with his creatures are genuinely moving and his love for them is contagious.
The story itself blends an enchanting but light-hearted comedy with something far darker and exceedingly emotional, with an ending that is almost as heart-breaking as some of our least favourite Potter moments. We watch as the four central characters – Newt, an unsuspecting muggle Jacob Kowalski, ex-auror Tina Goldstein, and her whimsical sister Queenie – come together after some rocky first encounters (much like Rowling’s well known trio.) What begins as a roundup of Newt’s escaped creatures quickly spirals out of control, forcing Newt and his odd assortment of comrades into the midst of a dark conspiracy and the brink of a wizarding war.
The tone and focus of the film raise the question of where the appeal for this film lies most. The Harry Potter series had the unique advantage of allowing an entire generation to grow up with Harry and his friends which this series (despite the promise of four more) does not have. Child characters are powerful tools which often draw an audience of the same age, especially in the fantasy genre; but in Fantastic Beasts children create an atmosphere of unease and are used as a horror-like device which might deter a younger audience. It certainly seems, given the age of the characters (adults rather than teenagers), that Rowling has targeted those who have grown up with Harry and are looking to venture back into the wizarding world with more mature characters. The film will no doubt draw most enthusiasm from these existing fans of Rowling’s world, but the charming development of relationships paired with the staggering plot-twists are enough to captivate even the most oblivious or adverse to the Potter world.
As an extension of this world, but first and foremost an on screen experience, Fantastic Beasts is refreshing for viewers who always knew what to expect from Potter on screen, having read the books years before. It takes this globally-renowned world in a new and thrilling direction with glorious special effects brought to life by intricate storytelling and endearing characters, and written by the only person we would trust to do justice to her own creation. I would urge you to see the film to discover the contents, not only of Newt’s briefcase, but also of Rowling’s brilliant, expansive, and irresistible imagination.