By Mehera Bonner published
You know how the Harry Potter movies got better, and better, and better—growing with their audience in both sophistication and magical thrills as each year passed? Basically, we started from the bottom and now we're here—here being Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which comes out of the gate strong and proceeds to crush it for a full two hours and 13 minutes. It's hardly a shock given the script was written by J.K. Rowling herself, who's gifting the world five movies total, all of which will be penned by her expert hand.
Because Harry Potter comparisons will be inevitable, let's get them over with. Fantastic Beasts 100 percent lives up to the hype, exceeds expectations, will give you magical feels, and—bonus—has the advantage of a recent Oscar winner being at its helm. Viewers don't typically expect powerhouse performances from adventure movies, but it's nice nonetheless, and in this case lends an element of realism to an otherwise fantastical world. Eddie Redmayne is charming as Newt Scamander, a Hogwarts alum who arrives in New York with a suitcase full of misunderstood beasts (#normal), only to end up wanted as a result of accidentally unleashing them upon the city. Oh, and meanwhile there's an evil wizard trying to kill everyone's buzz/kill everyone in general. The film is your typical adventure—boy meets girl, girl dislikes boy, boy eventually wins girl over, good triumphs over evil, etc, but it's also so much more.
Themes of outsiderdom, exclusion and otherness are impossible to ignore, and become allegories for an array of contemporary social issues: gay rights, the Syrian refugee crisis, environmental protection—even racial tension. Given our own recent election results, the magical government in 1920s New York rings especially disturbing—wizards aren't allowed to marry let alone speak to muggles, magical beasts are outlawed simply for being misunderstood, and those who are different are feared and reviled.
Anyone who follows J.K. Rowling on Twitter knows that she's a champion of social justice, and her influence on the film is unmissable. Fantastic Beasts' main female protagonist Porpentina Goldstein is career-focused and probably just fine without a boyfriend (though yes, we're shipping her and Newt); her sister Queenie subverts every glam-girl stereotype by falling for a seemingly basic muggle; and the magical government is presided over by not just a woman, but a woman of color. Because in J.K. Rowling's world, the glass ceiling was shattered in 1926.
All of the above is an A+ sign for future films in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, especially since Dumbledore will more than likely make an appearance, and will (hopefully) be written as gay—at least based off the following pretty cut-and-dry comment J.K. Rowling made in 2007:
"Dumbledore is gay."
Even in 2016, we're talking about representation that normally just doesn't make its way into films with such massive influence and reach. Yet what's most impressive is that these socially relevant themes aren't heavy-handed. They're wrapped up in the cozy magical blanket that makes J.K. Rowling's wizarding world the definition of escapism to so many. It's hard to think of a criticism to bestow on Fantastic Beasts (though some audience members might take issue with Johnny Depp's casting), but since this is a review, and one should look for flaws, let's go ahead and list some random complaints.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them hits theaters on November 18.
Mehera Bonner is a news writer who focuses on celebrities and royals.
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