Let’s just hope there are Nifflers in the afterlife
by Jack Archambault
There are two things in this world that I am an unequivocal nerd about: sports and Harry Potter. In fact, the latter has become something of a sick obsession lately, as my love for HP has been given new life over the past few months for various reasons, not the least of which being the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. As jazzed as I was for this movie and am for the remaining four(!!!) in the franchise, I was disappointed that a large number of people didn’t share my unbridled enthusiasm. And while it maybe (definitely) is a swipe for cash by J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros., after believing that the wizarding world was done for good, I am thrilled to be invited back. In fact, I was so excited that I went to the red carpet and world premiere at Lincoln Center. After waiting on the sidewalk and seeing the actors up close, as well as some muggles in costumes that were, shall we say, bloody brilliant, I was ready to leave. But luckily for me, magic was in the air, and it was in the form of three Warner Bros. employees who were giving away tickets to go inside and see the movie. Being the hot and charming guy that I am, I got one. I was Charlie Bucket with a golden freaking ticket. I was in.
First, as a disclaimer, this review is from the entirely biased viewpoint of a major Harry Potter fan. With that established, I thought the movie was nothing short of incredible.
To start, the characters were well-developed and immensely likable, particularly the main quartet of magizoologist Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne), no-maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), ex-auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), and her sister, a flirtatious mind-reader named Queenie (Alison Sudol). Set in 1926 New York City, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows Newt as he writes his book of the same name, a book that is incidentally required reading of Hogwarts students in Harry’s day. While he only intends to stay in New York for a few hours, there obviously wouldn’t be much of a movie if that ended up being the case, now would there? By and by, some of Newt’s creatures escape, and he, Jacob, Tina, and Queenie gotta catch ‘em all. While this is happening, a mysterious force is wreaking havoc in the city, prompting MACUSA, the American version of the Ministry of Magic, to worry about the exposure of wizards to the no-maj community, a fear that is well-founded because meanwhile a group known as the Second Salemers are spreading anti-witch propaganda, creating an us-versus-them dynamic that is unsettlingly similar to our current political climate.
But while the storylines are intriguing, what really makes the movie magical are Newt’s fantastic beasts. From the Occamy to the Swooping Evil to my personal favorite, the impossibly adorable Niffler, the movie reaches its highest points and recaptures Harry Potter’s magic when we venture into Newt’s enchanted case. It is here, with swelling music and incredible special effects ,that the movie truly hits its stride.
What excited me the most about Fantastic Beasts was that unlike all the Harry Potter films, there was no source material for me to compare this to, so I was able to enjoy the movie without picking apart how every detail lined up to how I imagined it in the books. In addition, this film was helped out immensely by not being a true prequel to Harry Potter. While there were some interesting references to the original series, such as the Lestrange family, a small nod to Albus Dumbledore, and a fantastic Quidditch reference courtesy of Newt (“I’m more of a chaser, really.”), it is clearly its own thing. Admittedly, being the first of five movies, it had to do much of the heavy lifting necessary to set up the rest of the story, but the ending left plenty of loose ends that need to be tied up, making the prospect of four more of these things nothing short of thrilling.
It has been confirmed that the series will span from 1926 to 1945, essentially assuring that it will culminate with the legendary duel between Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald. However, with so many movies to work with, it is possible that we could get some very neat side stories and tie-ins to Harry Potter. Although it seems that Dumbledore and Grindelwald will be the focus of the later movies, I do hope we get to see more of Newt, Tina, Jacob, and Queenie as the series progresses. If nothing else, I’ll take any excuse I can get to keep living in Rowling’s wizarding world.