Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them felt like two very different movies stuck together. Spoiler free until you see the kitten!

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.

And now, I have some thoughts on Obscurials. You can feel free to skip this if you’re not a hardcore Potterhead. Okay. So, an Obscurus is a kind of cancer that affects children who don’t use their magic. That cancer can lash out and attack people and is generally uncontrollable by the child. It will also kill the child, generally before the child turns 10. After that addition to the ‘verse became public, fans were quick to label Ariana Dumbledore as an Obscurial. She didn’t practice magic, at least not after she was attacked by those Muggle boys, and is described as being unable to control her magic, having it burst out of her whenever she got upset. Sure sounds like what Creedence Barebone experienced to me. Okay so if Ariana was an Obscurial and her mother was killed by an Obscurus, that raises the question of why in the world her older brother would leave Harry Potter on the Dursleys’ doorstep.

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

sunbunny

2 comments:

Juan Alberto Roche Rodríguez said...

Great review Sunbunny, although I think I liked the movie much more. To be honest I loved! I fell for all the main character and the story, specialy Newt. "adorkable" what a great word to describe him :) and I totally ship "Jakweenie" now. (official ship name by J.K.R herself by the way)

I also liked that the movie have humor and magic, but that it didn't shy away fron darkness and more mature themes either. I think it really worked as a metaphor for child abuse and the pain some people go to supress who they really are out of fear. The escene when Credence take out his belt shocked me. Didn't espected it, took me out of guard. This was a more mature movie than the firsts Harry Potter movies, for a more mature audience. Meavy the passing was a little off.

On the point you mention, I want to say tha I had the impression that Grindelwald didn't create the Percival Graves persona and worked years in MACUSA, he just suplanted and probably killed him, the real Percival Graves, probably to look for the Oscurial child he saw in his premonition. A pity really because a liked Colin Farrel interpretation. :(

Overall a can't wait for the next one. The possibilities are endless. From the implication of Dumbledore's sister been an Oscurial, which would explain why would Grindelwald knew about them and was looking for one, to the inevitable final confrontation between him and Dumbledore hinself, former best friends (and posibly lovers) in the most tragic and awesome magical duel to end all magical duels. (I always thought it was sad they didn't do justice to their story in the previous films). Who knows, meavy even little Voldemort could appear at the end.

Thanks for the review. Cheers.

sunbunny said...

Thanks so much! I saw someone else float the theory that Grindelwald was impersonating the real Graves. It makes more sense than the conclusion I jumped to, but they still should have given us that information.

I'm excited for Grindelwald v. Dumbledore too. I was always sad they had to cut so much of that backstory from the movies. (Although if I'm being honest, I don't totally remember how much was cut, I think I've only seen the last movie once...)

Jakweenie was indeed adorable, but Newtina felt really forced to me. But, yeah, Newt was like the cutest thing. He wore a bowtruckle for a boutonnière! (Oh god, when he pretended to give Pickett away...) The way he was so concerned about his animals, like he was being dragged off to his death and all he cared about was that they not hurt his animals. I seriously almost cried.