Fantastic Beasts: A bleak look into the wizarding world

Set decades before Harry Potter was even born, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them gives fans a deeper look into J. K. Rowling’s magical world.

It’s the first installment in a series of new films that will seemingly be centred around Gellert Grindelwald’s dark rise to power. The film revolves around magizoologist (zoologist of magical creatures) Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, who is the author of the encyclopaedia textbook the movie is named after.

Scamander travels to New York, giving fans a deeper look into another part of the magical world Rowling had yet to explore and we are introduced to The Magical Congress of the United States of America, referred to as MACUSA.

This first installment starts out whimsical and funny. Scamander, an awkward but lovable loner and klutz, accidentally unleashes half-a-dozen of his magical creatures in New York City.

The first half of the film revolves around him hunting them down with help from No-Maj – the American term for Muggle – Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), disgraced auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her mind-reading sister Mary Lou (Samantha Morton).

The 3D cinema experience plays a crucial role here with these adorably mischievous creatures flying into the theater and into your face. But unless you’ve deeply immersed yourself in this magical world, be prepared to be left with many questions. Most of the creatures are introduced but no lengthy descriptions are provided, so you might want to dust off your encyclopedia and study up before going to see the film.

The rest of the film picks up on the dark themes we see introduced in the last few installments of the original Potter series. As Scamander arrives in the city, we’re made aware a dark entity is tearing up and destroying entire city blocks. No-Majs describe the culprit as a “dark wind with eyes.” It seems to be a type of dark magic fans have not been introduced to before.

The trouble is very much on the minds of the wizarding world, which exists primarily underground with MACUSA’s strict rules forbidding wizards and witches from befriending or becoming involved with No-Majs.

Despite their hidden existence, a few No-Majs seem wise to the community. A local woman has enlisted the help of homeless youth, calling themselves The Second Salemers, advocating for the need to rid the world of witches.

In Rowling’s first go at screenplay writing, it’s obvious she’s catered to die-hard fans of a older generation. She plays upon heavier themes of segregation and there’s foreshadowing of future political, moral and ethical trouble for MACUSA.

Fan theories have already sprung up using the dark and destructive entity introduced, called the Obscura, to shed light on some mysteries surrounding Albus Dumbledore’s sister, Ariana. But they’ll have to wait for more installments to be released before the debate is settled.

The film was often awe-inspiring and good for a few laughs. The performances of the four principle characters were good and they were all relatable and comedic in their own ways, but none stood out from the crowd. As an avid Doctor Who fan, I couldn’t help but feel like Redmayne was just ripping off the serious side of Matt Smith’s Doctor. The “bigger on the inside” technology of his tardis-like suitcase didn’t help set him apart either.

While some scenes, like Redmayne’s erumpent mating dance, were magical and funny, overall it was much darker than I had anticipated. Though still enjoyable, it didn’t manage to pick up the heart or hope of the original Potter series to make up for this darkness. Hopefully, Dumbledore’s role that’s slated for future installments in the series will pick up on the note of some much needed light in this bleak new look into the wizarding world.

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