J.K. Rowling, it’s been five years.
Five years since the final battle between the Dark Lord and the Boy who Lived was brought to the big screens, concluding the epic Harry Potter saga – or so we thought. Fans begged and pleaded for an eighth book, a prequel, anything at all. Our hopes were debunked by Queen Rowling herself, who stated that she would not be writing any more Harry Potter books. The possibility of a spin-off movie was not eliminated, however, and five years later, Rowling brings us back into the wizarding world in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Although Fantastic Beasts features elements reminiscent of the Harry Potter films, the movie tells a story of its own. Potterheads will be delighted by the references to the original series, while newcomers to the wizarding world can dive into the plot without much backstory.
Set in 1926, we are introduced to British magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) as he arrives in the big, busy city of New York. The only luggage he carries is his magical suitcase of creatures which he has rescued in his travels around the world.
Newt’s pitstop in New York swiftly deviates into a creature-chasing fiasco when several creatures escape into the city. Caught in the middle of the action is good-natured No-Maj (the American term for non-magical folk) Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). The magical mishaps catch the attention of former Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), who takes Newt in for performing magic in front of No-Majs and risking exposure of the wizarding community.
Turbulent times are looming for the wizards and witches of New York: disturbances from a dark, unknown force cause suspicion amongst No-Majs, and dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is rumored to be on the rise. In the midst of all this, Tina, Newt, Jacob, and Tina’s younger sister, Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), take on the task of capturing the escaped creatures themselves.
The rugged yet glamorous atmosphere of the roaring 20s is delightfully constructed. Gangsters and misfits gather at The Blind Pig, a speakeasy serving alcohol illegally during the Prohibition. Vintage-style newspapers, advertisements, and storefronts are charming features which effectively immerse the audience in the time period.
The intricately depicted magical creatures, as well as the home which Newt has created for them in his suitcase, are certainly fantastic. Newt’s case magically expands inside into a vast, multi-habitat space which also houses a shed for his own research work.
Overall, the chemistry of our four person cohort gives life to the film. Newt, a socially awkward yet determined Hufflepuff, drives the group forth with his unwavering compassion for magical creatures. His dedication to protecting creatures is sometimes manifested in endearingly absurd extents: a highlight of the movie was Newt’s capture of an Erumpent, a huge, horned beast, through a full-out mating ritual.
The Goldstein sisters complement each other perfectly: hardworking, caring, and strong-willed Tina keeps Queenie grounded, and while Tina is often serious and reserved, the elegant, outgoing Queenie is a “people person” able to read others’ emotions inside and out with her Legilimency skills.
Lovable No-Maj Jacob brings not only comic relief, but a genuine kind-heartedness. Stuck working at a canning factory, he dreams of becoming a baker. Jacob doesn’t actually know how to make pastries; he wants to work at a bakery simply because baked goods always make people happy – if that backstory didn’t win you over, I don’t know what will.
Ultimately, they stand together to battle against a corrupted system and a mysterious, uncontrollable force of magic.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them puts a spin on the wizarding world already known and loved by many. The action-packed plot, imaginative designs, and cast of characters which audiences will find difficulty parting with, are merely the intro to a predicted five-part Fantastic Beasts series. The future looks promising for the wizarding world – five years was worth the wait.
“You’re still waiting for more Harry Potter? After all this time?”