*REVIEW CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS*
It has been nine years since the boy who lived left us after bewitching an entire generation of kids, adolescents and teenagers with his charm and bravery while introducing them to a rich and intricate world full of magic and sorcery. But more than anything else it was the relationships he shared with everyone around him that made Harry Potter special. His exploits for the Gryffindor quidditch team or his prodigious talent in Defense Against The Dark Arts did not define him. Harry was defined by his mentor-prodigy relationship with Dumbledore, his love for Ginny, his relationship with all the Weasleys among whom he found the family he never had and his bond with Sirius. But more than anything else it was his friendship with Hermione and Ron that shaped him up, that formed a backbone for the kind of person he would grow up to be and gave us, the readers, a trio of characters we could relate to on every level and yet get surprised when they outdid even our wildest imaginations. How I miss them! Sigh.
So it should come as no surprise that Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them goes about on a similar path. There is a conscious attempt from Rowling (her first original screenplay) to make the characters appeal to us on a human level instead of drowning us in a frenzy of computer generated visual dazzle, which there is plenty of.
The story sets off when Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) an eccentric and soft spoken wizard lands in New York city. The year is 1926 and America, much like in the present, is on the verge of a civil war. Onto that in a minute. Newt, himself however is a bit of an eco warrior, who studies and rescues captive magical creatures. He also happens to carry a briefcase filled with them : not much unlike Hermione’s handbag, which has an undetectable extension charm placed on it. Inside the briefcase we get a glimpse of not just the visually stunning world the witches and wizards in front of the computers have created but also an all too rare peek into who Newt really is. The shy, not very likable protagonist is altogether a different person when in company of these fantastic beasts. To some he is their friend, to others he is their mother.
Now coming to the civil war I mentioned before : the America of the 1920’s is strangely averse to the magical world. While most of the muggles..sorry no-majs’ believe them to be a fairy tale there is a growing faction who believe they exist and wants them terminated. As a result the MACUSA (the American equivalent for the Ministry of Magic) has very strict laws regarding intermingling with the muggles. Let alone romance, even simple interactions with friendly muggles (I hate the word no-maj, so I am just going to stick with muggle) have to end with them being obliviated.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them has two parallel stories running. The first one being the above mentioned tension among muggles and wizards : which has a fairly dark and somber tone to it. However most of the first one hour involves a different plot line, one far lighter in thematic depth, where a few of the creatures from Newt’s briefcase escape into the city of New York . Eventually the two plot points meet but the tonal shift from frothy light comedy to a much darker drama can at times feel jarring.
Assisting Newt in his quest to recapture the escaped creatures are former Auror Propentina Goldstein (an understated Katherine Waterston), her fashionable, jazz loving, mind reading sister Queenie Goldstein (a star turn from Alison Sudol) and the breakout character of the movie Jacob Kowalski (the wonderfully goofy Dan Fogler) : a non-Maj (urrh!) who inadvertently gets entangled in this story. Soon however this plot line is taken over by a much intense, murkier story : one involving a high ranking officer from MACUSA : Percival Graves (a slightly bored Colin Farrell) who is pursuing the reasons behind certain magical outbreaks in the city of New York. He is taking the help of Credence (Ezra Miller), one of the adopted and abused children of Mary Lou (a vicious Samantha Morton) who is an anti wizard hate monger. The plot thickens : all leading to a visually spectacular climactic battle and an eventual reveal which sets up the series for its next 4 installments.
But as I mentioned before Rowling’s wizarding world works the best when it comes to emotions : and there are a lot of afterthoughts after the grand climax, most of which feels earnest, heartfelt and earned. The wheels have been set in motion, and there is everything from forbidden love to possible big reveals about more familiar characters from the Potter lore that should lure fans and casual viewers alike into discovering what other wonders and twists Rowling has set aside for us.
An avid Potter fan since my childhood, I loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to the bits. That being said, there are points where the film can be slightly difficult to fully grasp for people not in complete tune with the Potter verse. Harry Potter has always been political, but this time around the subtexts are even more visceral. At its most cynical Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them feels like a cash grab albeit with wonderful visual sorcery but at its best the movie serves as a soothing balm for people heartbroken over how our world today is shaping up. As Dumbledore used to say, ‘Do not pity the dead Harry. Pity the living, and above all pity those who live without love.’
And yes, the magic is still alive.
RATING : 4/5