Magic in Manhattan


As I decided to return to the Wizarding World, I felt uneasy. I refused to see my second childhood home mutilated by the money-seeking franchise necromancers that have turned Marvel into a machine that spits out movies of increasing mundanity (with some exceptions). However, I was surprised. Much like last year’s revival of the Star Wars franchise, Fantastic Beast’s creators have not just based the movie on the success of its predecessors but have focused on making a quality movie.

Fantastic Beasts tells the story of the 1920s British magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who travels to New York City with a suitcase full of magical creatures in an effort to extend his conservation efforts. Most wizards do not view these animals as being valuable and Newt is one of the handful of wizards fighting for conservation of magical species. Unfortunately, Newt’s suitcase is opened and his fantastic beasts rush through the city. While endeavoring to retrieve his beloved creatures, Newt assembles a crew of companions, a quirky witch, Tina (Katherine Waterston), a mind-reading flapper, Queenie (Alison Sudol), and a muggle, Kowalski (Dan Fogler). This band of awkward misfits face a tremendous evil stirring in the shadows of Manhattan.

JK Rowling, continuing her allegory of fascism from the Harry Potter series, adds to the group’s troubles when she confronts them with a Puritanic community of witch hunters, who blame wizards for catastrophes in society. These persecutors show a different side of fascism. Voldemort’s persecution of “mudbloods” showed their persecution of those who were not of the “pure” race. One the other hand, the New Salem Philanthropic Society, as these witch hunters call themselves, seek to create a scapegoat for society’s problems as the Nazis did with the Jews. This parallelism is evident in the use of Jewish and Polish last names for several luckless or persecuted characters. Much of the allegory clearly stems from JK Rowling’s dread of the global growth of what she views as extreme nationalism.

The political allegory was much more potent and striking than that of the previous films however, revealing a common trend of separation from the Harry Potter series. For instance, Fantastic Beasts does not take place in Hogwarts, or Britain for that matter, and the prim accents of the eight Harry Potter movies are replaced by the relatively gruffer accents of 1920s New York. Furthermore, most of the main characters of the film are older than Harry, Ron, and Hermione. This is evident in their relationship with magic; rather than being surprised and almost baffled by it as the young of trio of the previous series are, these characters are clearly more at ease with sorcery, as exhibited by characters’ effortlessly conjuring up strudels, flapper dresses, and engaging in mind-reading. Another difference is that those who do not possess magical powers are called no-majs, the American version of the British term muggles.

Fantastic Beasts is delightful, especially for fans of Harry Potter. With Rowling at the helm (she wrote the script), the movie shows glimpses into the well-known world while offering entertaining original content.  As was often the case in Harry Potter, the movie has scenes clearly aimed toward younger audience combined with incredibly dark topics, such as child abuse and the questions raised in Percival Graves’s (Colin Farrell) dark alley meetings with the young Credence (Ezra Miller). The movie has flaws; it is far from perfect. One of its main flaws is that some supposed “plot-twists” are incredibly predictable, but, on the whole, Fantastic Beasts is an exciting movie with solid acting, a fast-paced and gripping script, and a great score. All we can do now is hope that the franchise does not lose its strength as it stretches over four movies.

Should I watch it in 3D?: Yes

Rating: 4/5

Director: David Yates

Screenplay: JK Rowling

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, and Katherine Waterston

Score: James Newton Howard