J.K. Rowling scripts and produces the return to the magical world we last saw on screen in 2011, with the Deathly Hallows Part 2. This movie has big foot steps to follow in, so does it pull it off? For the most part, yes, but it left me wanting to dig into things that were only touched on peripherally.
At the heart of the film are four great characters, Eddie Redmayne is the lead, Newt who has come to America to complete a mission centring around one of his fantastic beasts. Redmayne is perfectly cast, awkward, with a slightly sideways walk whose nervous mumble draws you in as much as the emotion in his eyes.
He’s paired with Dan Folger as the muggle Kowalski, who gets caught up in events and could be the most tragic character in the wizarding world since Snape, but that leads us into spoiler territory and I won’t say anything more than that. He brings some delightful humour to the role, and is imminently likeable allowing the viewing audience to see how things are seen by the Muggles on-screen.
Katherine Waterston is Tina, an employee of the Magical Congress of the United States (think the American version of the Ministry), who has fallen from her position as Auror and rooms with her sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) who is completely endearing and is at home in the film as Redmayne is. She’s priceless and adorable.
To make the film desperate from the Harry Potter films, Fantastic Beasts is set in 1926, and America, which helps generate a magic of its own, as sets reflect the Art Deco style of the times, as well as the costumes, designed wonderfully by Colleen Atwood. But just like Hogwarts was magical and hid darker secrets, so does this era of wizarding.
There is something dark and murderous stalking the streets of New York, and Head Auror Graves (Colin Farrell) is vested in finding it, and possibly blaming the beast’s stalking on Newt’s pets, who escape shortly after arriving in the city.
But that’s not the only darkness at work in the film, and there are things that I hope are explored in the sequels we know are coming – the politics at work are fascinating, the wizards are hiding themselves from the world at large, something we know that continues into Potter’s era, but the American laws are a little more frightening, and therein lies your political and social commentary – wizards are frowned upon for interacting with muggles, and relationships are completely out of the question.
And, then there are the house elves, as we know, a virtual slave race, they are everywhere in this movie, performing menial jobs, performing in speak easies, and then there are the muggles, who know witches and wizards exist and want them banned, driven out, and destroyed.
These are dark, and relevant themes, as we’ve seen reflected in our own world, but they are only brushed on, as the family film prefers to stay right on track with magical, occasionally poignant moments, and visual, and character tie-ins with things to come in later years (i.e. Potter’s era) – there are the Deathly Hollows, a reference to the Lestrange family, and that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Yates and Rowling have created a fun, family-oriented film, that is occasionally over-powered by the solid visual effects, but with Redmayne keeping the heart and soul of the movie alive it’s a trip worth taking, and lays the groundwork for the next few films that are already in the pipeline.