Take everything that you know about the Harry Potter series – and even if nothing has irked you, and you absolutely love it – and throw that right out the window and directly in the face of a petty “No-Maj” (the American word for Muggle) like myself. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes you out of the drab and mundane of adolescence in Hogwarts and gives you sweet wizardry action.
Fantastic Beasts follows Newt Scamander (played by Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne) and his loveable No-Maj happenstance-sidekick, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) as they traverse the streets of 1920’s New York. Attempting to out run former Auror (a wizard cop essentially) Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson) and current Auror, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), of the Magical Congress of The United States (MUCSA), capture myriad of “fantastical beasts” that have escaped from his magical briefcase and solve a dark riddle that’s tearing the American wizarding community out from the shadows, and into the light.
With the hunt for the fantastic beasts and the Obscurus – a new addition to the canon – the underlying themes come out in the movies’ dealing with discrimination and a literal witch hunt, throughout.
Fear and xenophobia play at the core of the film, which seem apropos for the current zeitgeist. At times, the film seems to be running down a checklist of summer blockbuster tropes: There’s the big fantastical set pieces, a surprise twist that sets up sequels to come, and all the kitsch and charm you can shake a wand at. But, as you peel back the layers beneath the shoehorned love stories and other constructs, you find a story that deals in people having to suppress who they are and how that only leads to retaliation. When one is forced to hide who they truly are, they will only lash out in ways that only hurt those around them and themselves.
Don’t worry though, it’s not all just doom, gloom, and wizard anarchy – there is a litany of the most adorable beasts you’ve ever seen. Even some of the more “horror show” type of beasts come across as the cuddliest creatures that could easily crush you into a human pancake or eat your brains.
I admit, I’m not a Harry Potter fan. I’ve never enjoyed the books and I’ve found the movies, save for Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, to be very mediocre. Even though they’ve had great directors at the helm of some; including Alfonso Cuaron and Chris Columbus. I can’t find it in me to enjoy any of them. It is a bias, I know. But Fantastic Beasts blew that bias wide open and maybe even opened my cold heart to letting the Wizarding World in.
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