3 Stars – Thought Provoking
The next series by J.K. Rowling is within the same fantasy universe as Harry Potter’s but is now situated in New York City rather than at Hogwarts School in England. Taking us from the world of students we have now graduated to the adult world where a scholar has attempted to defend the magical beasts that his fellow wizards have been making extinct. Directed by David Yates of Harry Potter and Tarzan fame, this quality genre of fantasy films continues.
The person who has this zoological interest in these magical beasts is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). A young wizard with a passion for these fantastic creatures, Newt has traveled the world to both protect the beasts and educate the wizards. Traveling from England to the United States to bring a trafficked creature back to her home, he finds himself suddenly in the middle of a battle that goes beyond the one of wizards and beasts. This one revolves around a villain seeking great power to begin a war against the non-magical humans. Hiding his identity, Grindewald (Johnny Depp) has taken the form of a chief enforcer of the wizard community named Graves (Collin Farrel).
Like Harry Potter in the previous series, Newt gathers an ensemble to assist in the struggle including fellow wizard Tina (Katherine Waterston) and her mindreading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol). He also serendipitously includes a non-magical human, or “muggle”, named Kowalski (Dan Fogler). The gathering of the four into a team is complicated and shifts as their relationships develop.
Though there are at least four more films which will be a part of this series, the genius of Rowling’s writing is that each film can stand alone, such that this film feels complete without creating a sense of needing continuation, except for the prophetic claim that Grindewald makes about no one being able to contain him.
Fantasy films, like science fiction, allows us to see ourselves and the battles we fight from a new perspective. From the extinction of fantastic animals to the egomania and fear that drives us to war, this new series looks to be a maturing of the themes of Rowling’s stories from those of the concerns of high school to that of the adult world.
Though some will still be uncomfortable with the use of witches and wizards and the occult symbols, such as an inverted pentagram (which is seen on the floor in the gathering of wizards which points down rather than up as it reverses the star of David) it is part of the fantasy setting of Rowling’s writing. That there is evil and that some use evil for personal gain is true, but the fascination with symbols and secret conspiracies is more projected into the film than projected onto the screen.
As we progress with better special effects and the maturation of Rowling’s universe, there will undoubtedly be a deeper exploration of both the real and the imaginary world. Both are valuable parts of our collective journey and we look forward to the next installments.
- The belief that there are good wizards and bad wizards who use the power of magic for good or for ill, is similar to the theme of Star Wars and the use of “the force” for good or for bad. Why do you think writers are drawn to the belief that there is a power greater than ourselves? What do you think that power is?
- The demure strength of Newt is similar to the naïve strength of Harry Potter. Why do we see fictional heroes as not having egomaniacal desires? What does this teach is about human heroes?
- Comparing and contrasting this first film in the new series what did you find more or less interesting from the original Harry Potter films?