The ‘Harry Potter’ movies certainly never struggled to conjure up hype. Just as JK Rowling’s whimsical tales of wizarding adventures at Hogwarts flew off the shelves faster than a seeker in hot pursuit of the Golden Snitch, each Warner Bros movie came and went in a flurry of excitement as long-term fans lined up to find out whether the Boy Who Lived would finally get to take down He Who Must Not Be Named. Or more precisely, to rediscover what they had already gleaned from the books, since Rowling’s literary efforts always turned up first.
But ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ already looks like a rather different magical creature. Warner has pitched Rowling’s screenwriting debut as the first in a trilogy, the ‘Fawkes the phoenix’-like reignition of a blockbuster saga that has so far netted the studio more than $7bn worldwide, the most for any movie series bar the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But there are signs the new film might have some work still to do if it hopes to challenge its predecessors for the box office equivalent of the Hogwarts house cup.
Here are some nagging issues regular Potter director David Yates will be hoping to overcome.
The lukewarm Comic-Con reaction
According to social media trackers ListenFirst Media, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ was only the sixth-most talked-about movie online in the wake of its appearance at the annual fan convention in San Diego. Yates’ movie came in behind fellow Comic-Con debutants ‘Suicide Squad’, ‘Star Trek Beyond’, ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Justice League’ in terms of online mentions.
Fair enough you might think, these are all big movies. But the first Potterverse movie since 2011’s ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2′ also languished in the wake of semi-obscure supernatural horror ‘Lights Out’.
Cultural shifts towards superheroes and space opera
When the first ‘Harry Potter’ movie came out, way back in 2001, it was competing for space at the multiplexes with George Lucas’s terrible Star Wars prequels, while the best superhero movie of the period was 20th Century Fox’s semi-decent ‘X-Men’. But ‘Fantastic Beasts’ will compete with ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ which, while it has its own issues with hype, is also due to arrive in cinemas almost exactly a year after the crazy success of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’.
Meanwhile, Marvel’s ongoing battle for supremacy with DC, and 20th Century Fox’s belated realisation that spiky R-rated fare such as Deadpool might be the way forward for its X-Men ‘verse means there are more superheroes in cinemas than ever before. ‘Fantastic Beasts’ will arrive just a fortnight after Benedict Cumberbatch’s debut as ‘Doctor Strange’ in the US, though there’s an extra week between the two movies in the UK, where Yates’ film bows on November 18. Might audiences be all magicked out after the first big screen adventure for Marvel’s sorcerer supreme?
The traditional hard slog for original blockbuster material
The Potter movies had an automatic audience: fans of the books. But while Rowling fans have been lapping up every leaked detail about ‘Fantastic Beasts’, and the English author has worked hard to make up for the lack of a source novel (beyond a short tome released in 2011 to raise money for Red Nose Day) with regular essays and stories on her ‘Pottermore’ site, no one quite knows if the new movie will have quite the same staying power as its literary-inspired predecessors. Like a bag of Bertie Botts’ Every Flavour Sweets, Warner Bros will just have to suck it and see.
A distinct absence of the Boy Who Lived
Harry Potter is not in ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’. In fact he won’t be born for another five decades in the new movie’s 1926 timeline, and even then will be living out his wizarding adventures on the other side of the planet. Yates’ film is set in roaring 20s New York, and features an entirely new magical hero named Newt Scamander, author of the titular Hogwarts textbook that Harry and his chums used in their first year at school. There’s no Hermione or Ron, either.
A whole New World of magic
There are no Muggles or Death Eaters in ‘Fantastic Beasts’, as the entire film takes place across the Atlantic. Rowling has teased us with a vision of an early 20th century North American wizarding world in which witchy society is a carefully-protected hidden community desperate to fend off the prying eyes of nefarious “No-Majs” (American muggles) who might want to string them up for occult practices. The villains this time out are Samantha Morton’s Mary Lou, head of the nefarious New Salem Philanthropic Society, and possibly her mysterious son Credence (Ezra Miller). Nobody knows if these will have quite the same resonance with audiences as Voldemort (sorry), Lucius Malfoy and other perennial occupants of the Hogwarts naughty step.
Native-American grumbles over cultural appropriation
Rowling was on safe ground with the ‘Harry Potter’ books and movies, at least outside of the US bible belt. But her efforts to create a quintessentially North American magical architecture have proven extremely unpopular with campaigner and Cherokee scholar Dr Adrienne Keene, who complained about the author appropriating the Native American “skinwalker” myth for a story on Pottermore. “It’s not ‘your’ world. It’s our (real) Native world,“ she told Rowling on Twitter. "And skinwalker stories have context, roots, and reality … You can’t just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalised people. That’s straight up colonialism/appropriation.” Not to be put off, the author has continued to write about the involvement of indigenous tribespeople in the early days of American magic, while Keene has largely kept quiet. It remains to be seen whether the cultural storm blows up again when ‘Fantastic Beasts’ itself hits cinemas.
Image credits: PA/Warner Bros