Fantastic beasts spin their magic

Fantastic beasts spin their magic

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

(M) Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler

It has been five years since the final big-screen instalment of the Harry Potter franchise. Is it too soon to introduce a new chapter to this beloved series?

“No!” surely must be the answer for the fans of J.K. Rowling’s world of wizards and the students of Hogwarts. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them does open the next chapter into the hidden magical realm of Harry Potter — but it takes a look back, instead of forward. Set decades before Harry Potter’s adventures, Fantastic Beasts finds Rowling broadening her influential reach and situation her newest creation on the shores of the United States. Celebrated writer Rowling proves that this storyline is rich with new and worthwhile avenues to explore.

Upon his arrival into the the land of the stars and stripes, Englishman Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) stops over in New York. As he takes in the sights of the city, he gets drawn into a series of events which cause the release of some of the fantastic beasts that reside in his magical case. In an attempt to corral these creatures, he must enlist the assistance of a No-maj (the American version of a “muggle”), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and they must stay two steps ahead of the wizard authorities. The havoc created by Newt’s magical critters comes at an exceptionally difficult time between the worlds of wizards and humanity in New York — and Newt’s extra-ordinary friends are not helping the situation. The creature conservationist must work with investigator Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) to find his unique escapees, as well as attempt to find out what is causing destruction and death throughout the Big Apple.

Expect the unexpected when engaging with the new universe of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It contains some of the familiar elements of Harry Potter, but it is truly a new chapter in Rowling’s world of wizards. This is an origins story that attempts to find its own place in the cinematic realm without being fully reliant on the phenomenon of the original book series. One component that is different is the intended audience. Harry’s world was enjoyed by both adults and children, the protagonist and the primary thrust of the novels and films was intended for an adolescent audience. This instalment seems to be intended for a mature market. The relationships, the subject matter and dialogue are all handled in the adult realm and may not be as accessible for the younger set. Not that children will not enjoy it, but this is a noticeable change from the Harry Potter storyline. Yet, this does not diminish the quality of the overall experience.

Director David Yates was brought back after being at the helm for the last four Harry Potter films. He successfully continues the look and feel of the magical environment but the setting of 1920s America gives him a new canvas to create his art upon. He effectively incorporates the culture of the US Prohibition era, but still supplies the needed elements to honour the Potter heritage. Because most of the story will be relatively new for audiences, the seasoned director is left with new character and story development. Managing the expectations of the established fan base, Yates effectively makes this new chapter stand on its own.

Eddie Redmayne and the surrounding cast are well chosen for the continuance of this spellbinding saga. Redmayne plays to his strengths and is captivating in the lead role and Katherine Waterston provides the critical foil to the protagonist. Dan Fogler is the stand-out in the new ensemble, though, and holds his own as the primary representative of humanity amongst the wizards. He provides the needed humour and human element to play on the emotions of the crowd. The vast majority of this new adventure — from the cast, to the sets and the creatures — make for an entertaining and captivating experience.

Yates and Rowling have done their best work to set up a new franchise for a generation that grew up on Harry Potter and is now looking for the next stage in the multiverse. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will whet the appetite and make audiences look for more from Newt and his fantastic beasts.

 

What are the bigger questions to consider from this film?

At the heart of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the idea of conservation. Newt Scamander does have magical abilities, but his role is to care for rare creatures from around the spiritual and natural world.

In the real world, the belief in animal conservation can take on different levels of consideration. But one of the first commands from God to mankind was to take care of his created beasts. The challenge is to not allow these beasts to take precedence over the care of humanity — or to let it get in the way of our service of God. Like most things, they are to have a place in God’s world, but the created should never diminish the focus on the Creator.

  1. Should we care about the animal kingdom? (Genesis 1:26-28, Proverbs 27:23, Colossians 1:16, Matthew 6:26)
  2. What does the Bible say wizardry and magic? (Leviticus 19:31, Galatians 5: 19-21, Revelation 22:15)

 

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger

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