In many ways, the Fantastic Beasts series subverts the action/adventure genre, none more so than in its protagonist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Many critics found themselves detached from Redmayne’s main character, describing him as “so good-hearted, simple, and nondescript that it’s sort of crazy that he’s going to be the centrepiece of four or five more films”. However, it is through the break from convention that many critics missed, in my opinion, the heart of Newt’s character.
Newt Scamander does not follow the archetypical hero’s journey which Hollywood has conditioned us to expect, like Luke Skywalker or indeed Harry Potter. He is not ‘The Chosen One’, nor is he ‘The Reluctant Hero’, the last hope, as seen in Logan or Han Solo. Newt is the sort of ‘Beta Male’ character often relegated to sidekick status. However, it is refreshing to see this in an industry saturated by toxic masculinity. Newt presents masculinity born out of quiet self-confidence without the need to display his power. In contrast, he dedicates himself to nurture and protection. He represents a true Hufflepuff, valuing hard work, patience, loyalty, and fair play.
“These typically feminine traits challenge gender expectations, whilst proving that this can make for an engaging hero.”
Newt’s greatest power is not his spell-casting ability (although it is very advanced), but his empathy. This doesn’t align with the Hollywood Alpha Male, but it is precisely this that makes him such an endearing protagonist. He challenges the treatment of women and of muggles. These typically feminine traits challenge gender expectations, whilst proving that this can make for an engaging hero.
Nowhere is his empathy more evident than in the 3rd Act GCI showdown with Credence (Ezra Miller). Being a fan of the action genre I have seen more than my fair share of these. However, this one differs in that defeating the Beast is seen as a tragedy. Indeed, Newt says “I’m here to help you Credence. I’m not here to hurt you”, this is the essence of Newt’s character.
“His disability is reframed as his power”
Heroic expectations are also subverted through the depiction of disability. In an interview, Redmayne explained “I think he is on the Asperger’s spectrum”, but he does not fall into the handicap trap, often exemplified by one of these 3 tropes: ‘The Mad Scientist’ (think Doc Brown from Back to the Future), ‘The Tormented Genius’ (Alan Turing from The Imitation Game) and – as Severus Snape would describe – ‘The Insufferable Know It All’ (Sherlock).
Newt’s Asperger’s is not presented as adversity which he must overcome. He is not made to fundamentally change, because in essence, he is already a hero. His disability is reframed as his power, enabling him to experience great empathy for others, which ultimately forms the relationships and drives the plot of the film.
Despite the flaws of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Newt is the true standout; a three-dimensional, relatable character which completely shatters convention. I have not yet seen Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald, so it remains to be seen whether these characteristics will remain, but just reflect on this the next time you go to see an action blockbuster and ask; does the protagonist display Newt’s Magical Masculinity?