Yesterday I finally saw the next stage in JK Rowling’s plan to dominate the word of literature and film. I mean I have nothing against the woman but everything about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has just screamed of “how can we squeeze more cash out of our loyal fans?” I mean the decision to release the screenplay may be no-nonsense from a financial standpoint but it just seems like a shameless tactic to earn more cash. It kind of feels as though Rowling and her backers just see the Harry Potter fandom as bags of cash and are doing everything in their power to exploit them for continued financial gain. You know me by now; I think Harry Potter should have ended at the final book. It was complete and it was satisfactory. Rowling herself once said she wouldn’t revisit the world again but has continued to prove that was a huge fucking lie. Yes, she gives loads to charity and helps people and I admire her for that. However, her constant flip-flopping on this and inability to leave well alone just makes me lose respect for her. She’s like the literary world’s George Lucas. So I wasn’t exactly convinced I’d come out of Fantastic Beasts feeling much love… especially when the Rogue One trailer showing beforehand gave me literal tingles. I mean my legs actually went numb. I haven’t felt that kind of emotional response to anything Harry Potter related for years. I’ll always be a fan but I’ve been over it for a while now. At least Disney don’t try and pretend that you’re anything but bags of cash in their eyes.
I’ve had a bit of a tough relationship with JK Rowling over the years because of her constant need to present herself in a way that just feels false. She tries to act as though she’s all about her art but she’s still really driven by cash and fame. It’s why we’ll never see and end to her Harry Potter writings and why she’ll continue to allow Warner Bros. to release films in the franchise. She had a huge idea a few years ago and she’s trying to cling onto that high. I get it but I don’t respect it. You need to know when to quit. Before he started getting super annoying and twattish, I really respected Ricky Gervais for knowing when to let go of an idea. He let The Office and Extras go when they were at a high and people love them even more because they never went shit. Harry Potter is in danger of outstaying his welcome.
Still, I love Eddie Redmayne with all my heart so I was quite excited to see him front Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The first film in the quintet introduces us to Newt Scamander, the who will go on to publish a textbook familiar from Harry Potter’s school days. Set in the mid 1920s, Newt (Redmayne) is visiting New York City on an errand. Whilst there his magical suitcase, full of magical beasts, finds itself in the hands of a No-Maj (the American version of muggle), Jacob (Dan Fogler), and some of the contents escape into the city. Before Newt can track down his missing menagerie he is apprehended by ex-auror Tina Goldestein (Katherine Waterston). Tina plans to take Newt and Jacob to her bosses at the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) to help revive her reputation. Unfortunately for the trio, a magical related No-Maj death could derail all of their plans and land Newt and his creatures into even hotter water.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes it’s name from a small book that was released by JK Rowling to raise funds for Comic Relief in 2001. It contained information about the various magical creatures that inhabited the world of Harry Potter. Obviously, the film is not an adaptation, per se, but takes us to the time before Newt began writing his magnum opus. To say that I went in with lowered expectations I actually found the film to be an incredibly welcome entry into Harry Potter canon. Especially after the disgustingly bad Cursed Child. It is helped by a fantastic cast, which to my surprise included Colin Farrell as auror Percival Graves. Eddie Redmayne perfectly encapsulates the character of Newt and is completely believable as the animal lover. Katherine Waterston manages to do what I felt Emma Watson never quite managed to pull off in her 7 films and provided us with a worthy, young heroine who can hold her own against all those wizards. Tina is fabulous and I want to be her with every fibre of my being. And Ben Fogler is the perhaps the greatest part of the trio as the lovable and clueless Jacob. You bond with him instantly and stay with him as you both learn more about this mysterious wizarding world.
The film is exciting and dark but has the inherent British charm and humour that comes with all of the Harry Potter films. It manages to breathe new life into the franchise by being primarily new and different but with enough similarities that you feel at home. The snippets of the old score coming through or familiar references and in-jokes will give a tug on your heartstrings whilst you’re exploring American wizarding customs. No longer focusing on students, the magic is more powerful and the special effects more exhilarating. There’s a lot going on but director David Yates just about manages to keep control. There are things that characters and plot lines that feel a tad underdeveloped and the whole thing could probably have been a bit shorter but that’s just me nitpicking.
Ultimately, this film made me feel good. It’s the closest I’ve been in years to feeling the same excitement I felt when I was a young Potterhead. It’s sweet, unassuming and just fun. There is a lot in Fantastic Beasts to show that it could be a great addition to the franchise but I can’t help remember The Hobbit. People were up-in-arms about the fact that a short children’s book was being adapted into 3 movies. Now an even smaller book has spurned 5 films and nobody gives a shit. I worry that after a couple more things will be starting to stretch a little. I know Dumbledore avoided fighting Grindlewald for a long time but 5 fucking movies worth? Come on! Plus, I have major issues with the casting Johnny Depp as a key character. I’m really dubious about his abilities these days. He’s too repetitive with his character choices and each of his eccentric characters are just the same person with a different wig. Still, having JK Rowling in charge of the script could actually mean that these films stay on the right course and keep the Potter spirit alive. This film certainly gives me hope.