[Editor’s Note: There are some possible SPOILERS in the review below. You have been warned!]
“People change after a while, and they’re no longer who you once knew.”
Those words, written by Newt Scamander, in his text Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, do indeed imply that you – or another person you know – has a mentality that has changed, and you are different than you once were, either good or bad, but there is a distinct change that has happened.
And that is where I find myself just before, and definitely after, watching this new installment of my beloved Wizarding World. A movie that, while reminiscent of the Potter films, is definitely its own, separate entity entirely; it focuses on a completely different character, takes place in a completely different timeline, and takes place on a completely different continent.
It was also written for a completely different audience.
Not that Potter fans won’t be the intended audience for this film, but this film was written for an audience who is older than that of which the Potter octalogy; written for those of us who grew up reading the books and seeing the movies when they came out instead of all at once.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them follows the journey of Magizoologist, Newt Scamander, and his journey into America to release a rare Thunderbird that he rescued from an illegal trader. If you read the books, you will recognize the names of both author and book from the text book list that Harry Potter received just before his first year at Hogwarts; it was for his Care of Magical Creatures Class, it is everything students should ever need to know about magical animals. (Yes, I may have it because JK Rowling actually wrote it for charity one year.)
The movie opens with Newt entering the United States on a mission to return a magical creature to his natural habitat just after a terrible tragedy struck a neighborhood in New York. After a brief run-in with a No-Maj (Muggle in HP terms), his suitcase with all this magical creatures was switched with one filled with pastries. (This No-Maj – Jacob Kowalski – is the movie embodiment of all the fans of the Harry Potter series. Kowalski is us; learning about magic, being fascinated with it, and wanting to be a wizard. He’s the most relatable character in the franchise.)
After the run-in with Kowalski, Newt is captured by former Aruror, Tina, and is taken to the Magical Congress of the United States, and is questioned about the growing conflicts between the magic and non-magic communities. These conflicts directly tie back to tragedy that occurred just before Newt entered New York, and it was believed to have ties with the dark wizard Grindelwald. (Yes, that Grindelwald that Dumbledore defeated before Voldemort rose to power.)
After Newt is seen as harmless and released by Congress, Newt works to find Kowalski and recapture a few of his creatures that escaped the confines of his bigger-on-the-inside suitcase. The two are then joined by Tina and her sister, Queenie, as their magical wildlife scavenger hunt takes a turn for the worse with even more homes and neighborhoods are destroyed by this magical animal or entity. It is at this time, when the combustion between the magic and non-magic communities is at its climax that anti-Wizard sentiment began growing as more and more neighborhoods were being decimated by an unseen thing that no one could explain other than a “dark shadow with glowing eyes.”
This “shadow” turns out to be an Obscurus, which we come to learn is the magical spirit of an individual who forces their magic inward – whether voluntarily or involuntarily – and it’s released once the pressure has built up too much, and it just explodes outwards. Unfortunately, it is during this time that Newt is chasing his creatures that he happens upon this Obscurus, from a young man named Credence, and deciphers the reasoning behind it’s magical pressure: his abusive, adoptive mother, and the head Auror, Percival Graves, who had been trying to locate this Obscurus before it became to destructive.
The film is given a great twist when Newt realizes that Graves isn’t who he has been claiming, but he was actually Gellert Grindelwald in disguise. It’s unknown to us just yet if Grindelwald was forcing Credence to allow his Obscurus to destroy parts of the city, or if he was just trying to raise more discord between the magic and non-magic people; however, one thing we know for certain is that we will find out more in the remaining four movies in the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
It was hard not being impressed with this movie, and – from my point of view in polling people – few have left theaters disappointed with the film. Just think about it, fans have nothing to compare it to; we have no books that tell us the stories of what happened in this timeline, so it is all new, fresh, and inviting. And I cannot wait to learn more.
Overall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was like a healing balm to a battered soul that had been torn to pieces since July 2011 when Harry finally vanquished the Dark Lord Voldemort, and our beloved Harry Potter experience ended.