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REVIEW: “Fantastic Beasts” enchants, renews passion for Harry Potter franchise

When I heard a movie was in the works based on “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” I was annoyed. An entire plotline somehow taken from one of Harry’s textbooks? It did not make sense to me. A couple weeks passed, the crowds dwindled and I finally sat down and watched it. I tried to keep my mind open.

I am glad I did. For the first time in a long time, new Harry Potter content enchanted me. I felt like a child watching the Sorcerer’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets again.

The film follows the author of Harry’s future textbook, Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne, attempting to rescue a few of his beasts by keeping them in his enchanted suitcase. He arrives in New York in the hopes of returning one of them to their natural habitat, but quickly stumbles across a non-wizard named Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Folger, former auror Tina Goldstein, played by Katherine Waterston and her beautiful mind-reading sister Queenie, played by Alison Sudol. While the four of them fight over law and morality, the Magical Congress of the United States of America, or MACUSA, tries to find the source of mysterious murders all across New York, led by their President Seraphina Piquery, played by Carmen Ejogo.

Newt’s genuine love of his creatures, scientific curiosity and difficulty fitting into the world around him make him an easy protagonist to grow attached to and support. Jacob is an incredible balance between the average Joe consistently shocked by the magic around him, and the adaptable, good-hearted friend that Newt needs. The character’s traits balance off one another and breathes life and believability into the new world.

In a movie about magical creatures, special effects are a huge deal. If your characters are not believable, a huge element people expect is lost. “Fantastic Beasts” does more than delivers.

Almost every creature looked realistic enough I believed I could carry one out of the theater with me. The ones that didn’t quite reach that level still had a level of fantasy in them that made me feel fully immersed in a world of witches and wizards and magic. They are the kind of magic that makes me want to go back and buy the textbook Newt created, with all its details on how to care for and raise such creatures.

The newest and most frightening magical creature, the obscurus, is one of my favorite additions to the Harry Potter universe. Whenever a witch or wizard child is severely abused for showing magical abilities to the point that they actively learn to repress magic instead of learning to control it, a parasitic creature called an obscurus forms out of the child’s magic. No obscurus host has been known to live past the age of 10, and usually the obscurus dies along with it. One of these is causing the murders in New York, but they’ve become so rare the magical congress assumes it must be one or many of Newt’s creatures run amok.

This was the only thing that pulled me out of the film for a solid ten minutes and made me genuinely upset. The member of the Magical Congress named Graves turns out to be Gellert Grindelwald, played by none other than Johnny Depp. Grindelwald is the second darkest wizard ever known to wizardkind, right beneath Lord Voldemort. Grindelwald is not only revealed to be the main antagonist pulling the strings, but he is also supposed to be the main antagonist in the upcoming sequel. I was not a fan of Johnny Depp being cast, but that is personal preference. The big issue was Grindelwald himself hitting the screen.

Grindelwald is terrifying. Grindelwald owned the Elder Wand. Grindelwald is Dumbledore’s old friend and rival. I was fine with the obscurial as the main terror in the film, and I was plenty invested in the heroes already because of their personalities and individual motivations. J.K. Rowling did not have to put Newt Scamander head to head with Gellert

Grindelwald to get my attention for the upcoming sequels. I am worried that despite Grindelwald’s powers, making him the antagonist limits what can happen in the upcoming films. Unless we fast-forward a few years at a time, invite Albus Dumbledore to the party, and make the final film about the duel of 1945, Grindelwald cannot be completely and finally defeated in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” Most possible major resolutions of his character arc have been covered. We know when he is really beaten, and who his remembered arch enemy was. If the next four movies include him and do not turn out to be a dip into that story in more detail, I will not agree with making Grindelwald the antagonist. If they are, I will not agree with dubbing the series based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, teasing us with a handful of characters and the hints of exploration of American wizarding life, only to focus on more of Dumbledore’s backstory.

The final twist aside, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was a wonderful movie that revived the Harry Potter franchise for me. I look forward to the four upcoming sequels, and hope Rowling handles both her new angle on the wizarding world and Grindelwald in a way that is satisfying enough to prove me wrong.

About Aaliyah Mitchell

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