Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Magic re-set & revisited…

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As a major Potterhead, I have been anxiously awaiting the next great from J.K Rowling and she did not fail to amaze. Despite alluding to the world in which the great wizard Harry Potter was born, Fantastic Beasts is not a prequel to those films. It stands on its own ground with the wizardry of London travelling across the Atlantic to another metropolis that is New York City. And better yet, its set in 1926, the prohibition era which means for some dazzling Gatsby-esque historical context that addresses, not only a different domain of magic, but into the unknown wonders of the past. This new insight into the wizarding world Rowling so lovingly bestowed upon us mere muggles is all but one strand of the appeal audiences have for this film. We have new magical lingo, fresh character perspectives and a very grown-up tone. So a word of advice to those kids who grew up with the students of Hogwarts, myself included, buckle up, its time to understand the mature shade of witchcraft and wizardry.

There is always the issue of subconscious repetition when you read an authors next novel or watch a directors next film. I went in with this packed in the back of my head hoping to encounter Newt Scamander’s journey with a fresh perspective and honest curiosity. Rowling didn’t disappoint in terms of imagination for a story forever tethered to another magical world. Although the story beats partially fell flat in my eyes as missing the – for lack of a better, more befitting word for Rowling – magic it so deserved. I had the same feeling after watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the story is the same but the people different. A man/pseudo-hero arrives, encounters a problem, tries to fix it but finds another, deep-seeded, relevant to the whole world kind of problem which may or may not be resolved and thus paves the way for the second film. So do we bite, or do we shun it, as ‘been there done that?’ I believe it would be the former, as this generation of filmgoer’s just loves a teasing story about the battle against evil, which ends up forging a film series they can commit to. Having said that, the first film in a franchise almost always is labeled as contextual – we need to familiarise ourselves with a new magical setting and characters need to be introduced, but not wholly developed, so we can begin the journey with them, as well as start to form our own perceptions of them. So, is Rowling just toying with our emotions and deliberately keeping us in the dark about the question marks attached to this story? Like they say, you don’t reveal your game plan in one hit, you have to ease your audience in to then make the shot that will leave them wanting more. And in all honesty, I want more…

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Moving on to the way she writes, rather than what, Rowling has a certain knack for creating a character the audience understands and embraces wholeheartedly. And just when we are besotted or repulsed by them, and pine for more, she takes her pen (*coughs* quill) puts it back into the pot and leaves the tale for another day, or year. We meet Newt the magic zoologist, a walking enigma, in all his beast-keeping glory and are delighted by his character right off the bat. He is an awkwardly sweet introvert, who would rather spend his time with animals instead of humans, one being Pickett, a Bowtruckle with whom he has a strong attachment, so much so that giving him away was a tear-jerking moment in the film. (Don’t worry, they were reunited.) His love for the freedom of these creatures and the affection he holds to their companionship is a beautiful and eye-opening lesson of morality in a world, both fictional and real, where they are quickly ceasing to exist. Newt leaves us with a possible revisit to the Big Apple but not without throwing down a few enigmas about his time at Hogwarts, his Lestrange love affair and his future role in the Grindelwald era of dark magic. Is he our new wizarding hero?

Rowling opens the door into Newts heart just a tad with the spark between him and the American witch Porpentina ‘Tina’ Goldstein, a character matching Newt’s moral alignment and heartfelt duties. Although beneath the surface, she is a solemn character forced into the basement level department of the Magical Congress because she simply fought for the marginalised. She is a hero in her own right, it just needs to be recognised, rather than spurned. Along with Newt and Tina, the sweet but short-lived – one aspect of magic we hope loses its vigour – relationship between Queenie Goldstein and No-Mag Jacob Kowalski. Theirs is a budding love story ripped away so cruelly by the Magical Congress that we hope will resurface in the remainder of the franchise. Jacob’s memory of the miraculous adventure he embarked upon with his new wizard and witch buddies had to be retracted in the obliviating rain as Queenie left him with a warm goodbye kiss. The building of character relationships in this film springs the story into action, as no good versus evil story is complete without a group of people bound by the love of friendship and/or companionship. And together this awesome foursome will continue to catapult us into the escapist world of magic and all its journeys and transformations.

The creatures themselves were as captivating and entertaining as the human characters, and rightly so for the title is dedicated to the magnificence and mischief spilling out from Newt’s case. They are the purpose of this film, the title says so, and they assist the journey the characters take for the story to reach its peak, and thus continue to until the franchises end. We start with the inherently naughty Niffler who just cannot stop peeking out the case in search of money, jewels and pretty much anything he can stow away in his body. The list is as long as it is mesmerising; Occamy, Murtlap, Billywig, Thunderbird, Swooping Evil and Graphorn are just some featured in this first installment. Though, I have to say the fantastic beast I swayed towards was the Demiguise, the cute, fuzzy-haired, sloth-eyed, and invisible, seeing eye into the future who was having a little shop in Macy’s where Newt et al arrived to retrieve the Occamy. And without the Erumpent, we would not have been graced with the wonderful thing that was Eddie Redmayne performing a mating dance in the middle of Central Park.

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Now, we know Fantastic Beasts is not a prequel to those films. And neither is it remotely about Harry and his friends, but rather it revolves around a much greater force to be reckoned with. Mr. Newt Scamander, everyone’s favourite magic zoologist, is key to this five-film deal, but as you see in the epic stand-off of the climax, a beloved character and his long-standing feud is to become the primary focal point of this narrative. In most simple phrasing, Scamander presents himself as the subtle helping hand in the background of two great wizards and the contextual uncovering of what is to come in the next few years. Is it the case, or are we going to see much more from Newt in the coming films? Will he be our new hero to save the world from a dark lord, or will he remain the introverted underdog on the sidelines? We will have to wait and see, all we know is that four more films are in the works and we will most certainly be getting answers about the film’s contextual build up, both overt and covert. But how do you say? A young Dumbledore will be gracing us with his presence soon enough…

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