Contains spoilers – Don’t read if you haven’t seen the movie!
When word came out that Warner Brothers was hopping on to a new Harry Potter franchise, I was skeptical. Between that and the “Cursed Child” plays, it appeared that the Wizarding World would be continuing on. But would it be for the better?
The plays, or rather the scripts for them, were disappointing, but the one upside was that universe creator J.K. Rowling only wrote that story, not the actual script itself. For Beasts she takes the screenwriting duties for herself, and to a much more satisfying result.
Beasts tells the story of a very fringe character from the previous books- a textbook author by the name of Newt Scamander- and throws him into an unfamiliar New York setting that intertwines with a time of great unrest in the community. Former Dumbledore BFF Grindelwald is terrorizing Europe decades before Voldemort is even born, and the alarmingly Isolationist American Wizarding community is on high alert. It’s no wonder they panic when some of Newt’s creatures accidentally escape.
I saw this film described elsewhere as “Harry Potter for the adults who grew up watching or reading the series as children.” It’s an apt description. The film is dark, both in its themes (including magical repression, child abuse, and no-maj treatment), and just in the number of jump-from-your-seat scares. I did not expect so many horror elements. And while I did anticipate it to be more ‘adult’ due to the PG-13 rating, but was surprised at how grown up the story actually was. There are dark happenings taking place, and the narrative reflects that appropriately.
I knew the Grindelwald story would be overlapping with this film series at some point, but I did not expect it so soon. The opening credits are literally filled with exposition on the dark wizard and his exploits. The Grindelwald fear helps to move Newt’s plot in a logical way. Scamander released unknown threats within a community that strives for secrecy so much that they aren’t allowed to even be friends with non-magic users. Or course, we also get a sidekick muggle that helps drive that point home (with some devastating scenes at the end). The scenes with Kowalski were great, and he was goofy without being pandering, and serves as an excellent surrogate character. I eye rolled a bit with his romance subplot at first, but by the time the rain started to fall I was as heartbroken as the rest of the theater was around me.
The titular creatures of the story were prominent, as they should’ve been, but didn’t overshadow the overarching plot. The quests to retrieve them were mostly silly, especially when the niffler was involved, but they still felt connected to the greater stakes, and had the bonus of showing off the expanded, whimsical world. The comments about conservation were topical to our own, real world, and the animal lover in me felt for what Newt was trying to accomplish.
My only real complaint with the film was the final reveal at the end- so again SPOILERS.
I don’t like Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. Yeah, he had like 4 lines, but I always saw that character as someone dashing and charismatic, a man who did bad things but who was able to charm those around him, a man who Dumbledore himself fell in love with. Maybe it’s because Johnny Depp has been an actor playing caricatures as of late, but I didn’t like the whole aesthetic going on there. It just seemed like another eccentric Depp gig. Colin Farrell’s portrayal of the part was much more in line with what I expected, so it’s a shame that was just a polyjuice.
Anyway, I’m really looking forward to the rest of this series now, Johnny Depp aside. It established a new magical governing body, in a new time and setting, and linked it to people who are familiar to fans of the earlier books. There is a lot more to happen still with this story, but I do have to ask- does newt play a continued role in it? I could see that going either way. We’ll have to wait two more years to see…