I was admittedly late in seeing this film, having gotten caught up in the whirl of the end of the semester, but I found it so good that it still warrants a review.
The film takes place in the world of Harry Potter, but rather than Hogwarts, the lovely school of which we’ve grown accustomed, we find America in the late 1920s. We follow Newt Scamander, a former student at Hogwarts who is smuggling mythical beasts and creatures into America to release them to their native habitat. Along the way some get loose and he has to catch them with the help of Tina, a witch hoping to get him arrested, Jacob, a muggle who just happened to bump into Newt, and Queenie, Tina’s sister who can read minds. Together, the four stumble upon something much worse than some loose creatures.
As a set-up film, it worked well. You meet Newt, played by Eddie Redmayne, who has the most development out of all the characters. He genuinely cares about the creatures he takes care of and wants to help other people understand them. He’s a character you can root for, and he introduces the audience to the beasts. The CGI on the beasts was also incredible, making them look like strange animals you might see in real life. Colin Farrell took on the role of the powerful and oddly dark Percival Graves, and boy did he exude that. Honestly, he nearly stole the show with the subtle manipulations he plays out through the course of the film.
Queenie also presented a great character as a woman who appears stupid but is incredibly intelligent, due in part to the fact she can read minds. Jacob, as a Muggle, gives the audience a character to relate with. He needs everything explained to him, so we also get everything explained to us. Tina’s character development got side-lined a bit, as she’s supposed to eventually end up as Newt’s wife. You get a sense of the romance between them and the fact that she’s genuinely a kind person, but not much else. Hopefully, we’ll get more of her in the films to come.
I had two main complaints. The first came from Johnny Depp’s presence in the film. He came into the news recently for beating his wife, but he was still chosen to play one of the only two officially gay characters in the Harry Potter universe. He was only present for 5 minutes, in a scene which I won’t spoil, so it would have been relatively easy to change actors. My second comes from the way America gets presented. The film takes place in 1920s Harlem, but there is only a single person of color evident within the entire film. All of the background extras are white, despite the film being set in an area known for a large number of people of color who lived there at this time. It’s also clear that J. K. Rowling doesn’t know how large the United States is or how it handles issues, as all wizards attend a single school and magic gets used in front of non-magical people often without any real repercussions.
I’m excited to see where the next films (since there’s apparently going to be four more of them) take Newt and us with him.
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