This review is a mixture of both of the book and the movie.
If I was a Niffler, I would not covet jewels or freshly minted coins – I would be looting J.K. Rowling’s brain for more Harry Potter content. Like all my fellow Potterheads, I can’t help but want to revisit the wizarding world. Simply rereading the book is not enough, I always want more – even though I am aware that they will rarely meet my immense expectations for the series.
Needless to say, I was still amongst the first in line to queue up to purchase book of Fantastic Beasts. This was in spite of my decidedly mixed feelings on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I ended up adoring Fantastic Beasts in spite of its many flaws. I think being able to experience the book, rather than relying on movie alone, went a long way in making me appreciate this story. Not to mention that Newt Scamander is the Hufflepuff hero we’ve all been waiting for, and he deserves all of our love.
Personally, the highlight of this screenplay and movie for me is the character of Newt Scamander. He’s at once the quintessential Hufflepuff and a unique character all his own. Remember when J.K. Rowling explained why all the Hufflepuff stayed for the final Hogwarts Battle? It wasn’t because they wanted glory, or power, they stayed because that’s what Hufflepuff do – because being good needs no reward. That’s Newt, you feel it every time he interacts with one of his creatures or champion for another character. I also love the dichotomy of his mild social awkwardness, standing right alongside with his confidence and conviction in his passion for magical creatures. Eddie Redmayne totally owned this role, bringing Newt to life with his charismatic and multifaceted performance – I don’t think I would have ended up loving Newt quite as much without Eddie.
Speaking of the magical creatures, the visual effect are absolutely stunning in this film. Each fantastic beast that emerges from Newt’s case is beautifully realised, each with their own endearing set of characteristics. Whether it’s the Bowtruckle with the attachment issue, or the Niffler with a penchant for shiny objects – they were an absolute delight to watch. The special effects also absolutely enthralled in action scenes or in any situation involving Newt’s suitcase. Yet, the movie never felt overburdened by the amount of special effects – and I don’t think I will ever get sick of seeing people Disapparating.
Although Fantastic Beasts introduces us to new characters and explores novel story lines, its story is inescapably linked to Harry Potter. We begin in the year 1926, just as Gellert Grindelwald’s making his wave of terror across Europe – threatening the international wizarding world’s Statue of Secrecy. The tension between the Muggle (sorry, I refuse to use the American term No-Maj!) population and the wizarding world, it creates an unease that permeates its way throughout the entire movie. It also promises a tantalising larger plot to fill up the four sequels J.K. Rowling has envisioned for the film series.
Fantastic Beasts also felt true to the Harry Potter series in its themes. Where Cursed Child faltered to find its voice in the messages about identity and the weight of ancestry – Fantastic Beasts shined in its narrative on tolerance. Muggles have been sidelined in previous iterations of the franchise, but the story line concerning the Second Salemers and the Shaws promises more to come. Not to mention that we finally see a Muggle in a central role through Jacob Kowalski, who I hope to see more in the future – not least because of his perfect comedic timing.
Whilst I loved it, Fantastic Beasts certainly had its fair share of issues. The movie attempted to blend a huge amount of genres: action, romance, comedy, drama, yet I never felt it quite pulled off these tonal shifts. There were several changes in mood throughout the film that seemed abrupt to me, making several key scenes fall short of their potential.
Out of the four main characters of this piece, I only felt Newt had any real semblance of development and characterisation. On the page, I adore the concept of both Tina and Queenie (especially Queenie, who is a queen, and I pray for someone to start writing fan fiction involving Snape being bested by her in Legilimens). I wished these awesome ladies were given more to work with characterisation wise, as they seem to fall into the role of compulsory love-interests at the moment. After witnessing 7 books and 8 movies of Hermione kicking ass and saving The Chosen One, it’s difficult to see the ladies out of the limelight.
For a series so concerned with messages of tolerance and inclusiveness, the writing continues to be incredibly tone deaf when it comes to representation of minority groups. This seemed especially jarring considering the backlash J.K. Rowling received after the publication of her Magic in North America series. The only aspect of Native America we see in the film is the Thunderbird. There are some interactions between key characters in the screenplay that gives me hope we might finally witness a queer character in the wizarding world – but I won’t be holding my breath given the franchise’s awful track record with diversity.
However, this film was so satisfying to a soul starved of the wizarding world – and I will certainly be back for more. If you enjoyed the movie, I feel that the screenplay is a must-have. It gives so much more insights into character motivations and feelings via J.K. Rowling’s directions. Not to mention the Minalima cover and interior art design is beautiful. I want the wizarding world to stay Art Deco forever.