For those not in the know, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is actually a textbook that Harry Potter and co study at Hogwarts. So the film depicts the adventures of the fictional author of this textbook, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as his suitcase of creatures is let loose upon New York in 1926.
He enlists the help of a muggle, or, in American English, “no-maj”, in the form of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). Along with twin witch sisters Tina and Queen Goldstein (brilliantly portrayed by Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol, respectively), they must round up all the beasts, as well as figure out who or what is behind the mysterious dark force that is tormenting the city.
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The film screams Harry Potter from the opening credits, yet at the same time, there is immediately a much darker tone. It’s clear that we are no longer in the safe, friendly bubble of Hogwarts, where magic is revered and honoured. Instead, magic is an unknown, frightening thing that is to be quashed. This is made clear by the Salem-esque group of witch hunters, and highlights the key themes of tolerance, fear and bigotry. The acceptance of witches and wizards is the obvious message here, but the implicit message is that we could all do with a bit more tolerance in our lives.
This is further emphasised in the main characters; Scamander, Kowalski and both the Goldstein sisters are all a bit odd, and struggle to fit in or do well. Unlike popular Harry, or clever Hermione, these characters don’t fit the mould of traditional hero, and the lovely thing about this is that it makes them feel like real people. This makes a welcome change from the superhero takeover of 2016, who are all distant and unrelatable for the average person.
Redmayne does a great job of portraying the awkward, somewhat annoying Scamander, and Kowalski adds the charm and humour that Scamander lacks. The fact that Kowalski, a muggle, ends up being one of the main characters is testament to a more inclusive world.
The CGI effects, are, of course, a major aspect of this movie, and help bring the fantastic beasts to life. The imagination and sheer genius that has gone into them is incredible, although at times it can feel like creatures have been included simply to show off how creative and imaginative filmmakers can be, rather than driving the plot in any way. But while the beasts are impressive, for fans of the Harry Potter series, they won’t be the standout. The intricate weaving of subtle details from the books and movies, and little-known characters and hints at their backstories really take the film to the next level.
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This in turn strengthens the plot, which is complex and full. Unlike so many movies now, it doesn’t feel as though details have been purposefully left out in the interests of a follow up, although there are hints throughout that suggest where the story could develop. Muggles might find the multiple subplots dizzying, but for fans, this delivers on every level in a truly satisfying way. Harry Potter references aside though, Fantastic Beasts is a great film, with thrilling twists that will leave audiences on the edge of their seat.
Full disclosure: As this was written by an obsessive Harry Potter fan, people may question the objectivity of the review, but, in the interests of a fair and unbiased write up, I took a friend who doesn’t know the difference between a muggle and a squib and he agreed that it’s a great film – even if he didn’t get all the incredible, subtle and in-depth references to the magical world.
Edited by Ginny Wong