I’m enough of a Potterhead that I was already into this film before I saw a frame of footage. I mean, I don’t dress up with a Ravenclaw scarf when I go to the movies or anything, but I read all the books and watched all the movies. So I was already excited. Excited to see what the magical world is like on this side of the pond. To see a period version of it (the 1920s). But I was mostly excited by something that the marketing simply didn’t address.
As a Potterhead, I know that history tells us of a battle in 1945 between Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald in Europe. As soon as I read that, I wanted to see a prequel film depicting that battle, happening in the heart of Germany (hopefully) during the final days of World War II. Yes, that’s my fondest wish. To see a Potterverse version of a magical WWII.
So, that’s not in this film, just so you know. But the first moments of Fantastic Beasts introduce the audience to the name Gellert Grindelwald, and I got actual tingles. Tingles!
This film, on the other hand, is about Newt Scamander, a magical zoologist who is trying, in difficult times for such things, to help preserve and protect magical creatures around the world. It’s a clever construction to put this environmental story into both a fantasy context, and in the past. If this were happening in the here and now, it would feel preachy. In the past, I can understand why most people are poo-pooing Newt’s goals.
Of course, he doesn’t endear himself to MAGUSA (a terrible acronym if I ever heard one) when his suitcase-of-holding lets several creatures loose on the streets of Manhattan. By turns his antagonist and his ally is Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an agent of MAGUSA who wants to be by the book, in a Hermione kind of way. Pulled along for the ride are Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) who’s sort of Luna-ish, and a No-Maj (another terrible term) named Jacob (Dan Fogler) who is the Ron-ish comedy relief.
There’s also a collection of bad guys played by Samantha Morton and Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller who serve their purposes, and often drive the story, but aren’t really the heart the movie.
The heart of the movie is the foursome of Tina, Queenie, Jacob, and our central character of Newt. Played by Eddie Redmayne, Newt is perhaps the least charismatic lead character of a blockbuster film I’ve ever seen. He’s twitchy and shy. But he’s also awesome. I loved his performance because he seems so in tune with the animals he cares for that he’s sort of forgotten how to really interact with people. The most moving scene for me is when he pulls Jacob into his case and introduces him to these animals. This is where Newt is in his element. Gone is the whispery voice and the poor posture. This is where the character lives and breathes.
I loved the first series of films, but I don’t need this to be that. I like the fact that these are adults, that the story structure is a little looser, that I don’t just know where everything is going. If they want to make five of these movies, more power to them. I’ll be there, even if I don’t have that Ravenclaw scarf.