The latest Harry Potter franchise from J.K. Rowling doesn’t include Harry Potter at all. In fact, despite its namesake, it’s also not based on the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is actually just an encyclopedia of magical creatures that’s being worked on in this film.
Be aware this review will contain spoiler alerts on key plot points in the movie. If you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want to know, look away now. This is your final warning.
What this film focuses on is the life of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a British magizoologist expelled from Hogwarts and visiting America in the 1920s with a briefcase full of magical creatures, which are the true stars of the show.
It’s not long before they start to escape (starting with his niffler running loose at a bank) and Newt is caught up in the investigation of unlawful magic by Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and soon finds himself having to protect his creatures (and himself) as darker magic starts unfolding.
The full list of magical creatures found in Fantastic Beasts is listed on The Daily Dot.
On top of everything, Scamander is not only harboring illegal magical creatures that were meant to be killed, but also meets a nonmaj (non-magical person, the American term for muggle) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and starts spilling secrets about the wizarding world at a bad time for the American wizards and witches, who just recently endured Salem’s infamous witch hunts.
The bad guy in the movie is a bit difficult to pin down. We’re led to believe Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) is a Voldemort-like character looking to lead wizards to rule over normal humans.
He employs the services of several less-than-desirable characters, including Credence Barebone, (Ezra Miller) an orphan who was adopted by an anti-witchcraft activist leader.
It’s through Credence that we learn of the Obscures manifistation. Essentially when a young witch or wizard is forced to suppress their powers, it turns their soul into an evil spirit not unlike the shadows found in Kingdom Hearts.
Credence is severely beaten and tortured throughout the movie, making him a rather odd individual, and when he finally unleashes the Obscures on the city, it’s up to our heroes to stop him while simultaneously fighting Graves.
Overall it’s a brilliant action flick that carefully imports the magical world of Harry Potter across the pond and brings it to America. It’s also a bit more adult than the Potter series started (despite always being about murder and xenophobia).
It’s also the first in a five-film spinoff series that’s far from the halls of Hogwarts (although the school is mentioned several times throughout the film). Fantastic Beasts also tries using magic to provide commentary on our current state of divide and intolerance.
The only real familiarity and connection to the original Potter world is in the spells being used. You won’t see a young Snape, Hagrid or Dumbledore making any surprise appearances in this movie, but that’s not to say it can’t happen in the series.
Beyond that, this is an entirely new story taking place prior to the original book series, whereas the play and recently released manuscript follow the lives of the next generation in sequels. The Potter franchise is Warner Bros’ chance to create an epic of Star Wars proportions and compete with long-time rival Disney.
The main political and actual battle in Fantastic Beasts lies in the differences between wizards, witches, and nomajs. The amount of destruction caused by magic is contrasted by zealot Mary Lou Barbone’s (Samantha Morton) constant drive to find and stomp out any traces of magic. It’s a contrast that reminds us of the many activist and terrorist groups active today.
In the end, Percival and Credence are just distractions, and it’s the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) who will actually be taking up the Voldemort mantle in this new series.
Potter fans may already recognize the name Grindelwald as the dark wizard Albus Dumbledore dueled to obtain the Elder Wand. Voldemort later kills Grindelwald in his search for the wand and other Deathly Hallows.
It’s Grindelwald who will provide the transition from this wizarding world to the one we know and love with Harry Potter. He’s likely to be more important than any other character portrayed so far. Of course we won’t know for sure until the series is completed, as we all know how Rowling likes to change things up.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them represents several ambitious steps for the Harry Potter Franchise. It’s not only the first film series not based on an existing book, but also using completely new characters to tell its story using familiar elements.
Potter fanatics around the world (this one included) have been clamoring for a new story for years, and this looks to be the series that will finally provide for us. I just wish they’d release full-length novels to accompany the movies.
Final Grade: A-