The first was the charming tale of a frankly adorable man whose suitcase full of magical creatures is accidentally opened leading to a frantic chase around New York to recapture them before the Muggles catch on. That movie was precious. A bit simple, sure, but as far as a kid’s movie goes, it was charming. The second movie was a really dark tale of what abuse does to a young wizard featuring some really upsetting implications for the larger Harry Potter world (more on that below).
I feel like the first part of the movie, where Newt and his newfound friend Jacob chase a niffler around a jewelry store was vastly more enjoyable and was the tale JK Rowling wanted to tell. The other stuff felt tacked on like some greedy WB exec was like “Is there any way we can use this movie to jump start a new series of films?” I’m not saying it was bad. I honestly haven’t made my mind up about it yet. I’m a Potter purist. I don’t even like the original eight films that much because I vastly prefer the books where I can imagine everything just as I want it. I do have a soft spot for the film version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I could watch Hermione punch Draco forever. Anyway, the addition of new information about a world I know so well was bound to rankle (again, more on that below).
The wizarding world of New York in the 1920s was, visually, very well done. It felt, at once, like the real 1920s and also incredibly magical. The MACUSA set and Seraphina Piquery’s costumes especially impressed me. I wanted more Piquery in the movie. She seems like an interesting character. Less interesting, unfortunately, was the main character of Tina. I don’t know if it was an acting choice or a directing choice or a writing choice but she comes across dull and lifeless for the vast majority of the film until a key piece of information reveals her motivations. That key piece should’ve, in my opinion, been introduced much earlier so we could understand why Tina was so grumpy. Less problematic for me were the other three main characters. Newt was just…adorkable. Eddie Redmayne plays him with heart. After about five minutes on the screen I wanted to adopt him and make sure nothing bad ever happened to him again. What a puppy. Jacob was good too, although mostly just played for laughs. Queenie was terrific fun. So the costumes were great, the effects were, obviously, amazing, why did I leave the theater feeling like my favorite part of the experience was the Wonder Woman trailer?
Okay, spoilers from here on in. The first is a fairly basic complaint about the logic of the big twist. Why would Gellert Grindelwald, on the run from the entire wizarding world, move to America and spend what I can only assume is several years working his way through the ranks of the MACUSA to become America’s top wizarding cop? WHY WOULD HE DO THAT? He was clearly trying to harness the Obscurus as a force for his evil empire but did he need a job with MACUSA to accomplish that? Was that really so important to him he would dedicate years of his life to an alternate identity?
Another problem with Grindelwald is casting choice. I was in love with Johnny Depp from the age of 12 until the recent revelation that he is a domestic abuser. Now, I know Depp was cast and filmed before all that became common knowledge but surely, surely now that they know they could consider recasting for the subsequent films? The character of Vincent Crabbe was written out of the later Harry Potters because the actor was arrested for marijuana. I’m just saying, pot is a little less serious than domestic abuse.
I have other issues with Obscurials. I feel like Obscurui (that seems like the proper plural of Obscurus, doesn’t it?) are supposed to be a metaphor for mental illness. All the Obscurials we see are abused or mistreated which leads to their condition. So aren’t we sort of demonizing the mentally ill?
And then I have just some general criticism about JK Rowling’s wizarding America. It feels lazy. I’m not just talking about the movie here, I’m also talking about the recent stuff on wizardry in America that’s been posted on Pottermore. I mean I feel like she knew there should be some difference between Britain and America but didn’t really put in the effort. We call Muggles “No-Majs.” I’m sorry, that’s stupid. And then the whole concept of MACUSA being so intrusive into the lives of America witches and wizards doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Not just because Americans are not the kind of people who like to let people tell them what they can do but because in the 1920s (and certainly, in 1790, which is when the law that separates the two worlds dates from) large swaths of America were wide, open, and underpopulated. Are we really expected to believe that MACUSA has someone making sure every single wizard living in rural Texas has a wand permit? And also I just refuse to believe Americans would put up with this. Then we get into the problems with Ilvermorny (the American wizardry school) and the cultural appropriation there. Basically, not a fan of many of the later additions to the Harry Potter canon. I’ve made my peace with Cursed Child, a review of which will eventually be published as I flew all the way to London to see it (yes, I am that insane), but this stuff just doesn’t feel…right. The British wizarding world feels like these beautiful illustrations in a classic children’s book while the American wizarding world feels like a half dozen hurried brushstrokes.
two out of four nifflers