When Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was announced, it was met with elation from Harry Potter fans everywhere, myself included. Hogwarts and the other magical locales in the books and films have been like a home to millions of fans worldwide. It’s a home that we’ve all been away from for far too long.
With the film releasing during the holiday season, it was almost like returning home for the holidays. And just like returning home for the holidays Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was delightful for the first 30 minutes and then gradually went downhill from there.
The Fantastic Characters
Though Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) holds the title “fan favorite” for many, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) stole the show for me. I suppose that’s appropriate, considering it’s his film. Jacob was charming, funny, and had a genuinely good heart, but Newt’s devotion to the animals and the notion that humans are the real monsters of the world won me over early on. Watching him try to navigate the American world with his awkwardness furthered his charm, but it was easy for him to be a shining light in comparison to the American wizarding community.
Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) managed to spark a little bit of intrigue early on in the film. The same can be said for Credence (Ezra Miller) and the relationship that the two formed. Though it was painfully obvious that the boy was being used, there was still certain chemistry between the two that made their early scenes together one of the many delights of the film.
Coming from a series with such interesting women, it surprised me that the characters of Tina (Katherine Waterson) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) weren’t given much depth. Tina was, in my opinion, bland. There was a lot of opportunities to throw intrigue into her story with the whole “ex-Auror going off on a Muggle” thing but that was only brought up briefly then dropped. The Queenie character suffered the same fate as most of the supporting cast. She felt insipid and her character’s motivations weren’t fully flushed out. Her good intentions did little to make up for her constant intrusion into others’ minds, even in situations where she was specifically not given consent. The fact that legilimens doesn’t “just happen” aside, her constant mind reading was intrusive and frustrating.
Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) was a footnote in the film, but I feel he’s worth mentioning solely because of how uninspiring he was. There was something completely empty in the character. Grindelwald is supposed to be one of the worst wizards in history. Fans know is name. They know how evil he is. Yet there was no emotional response to seeing him for the first time. The reveal was met with resounding apathy, by both the audience I saw the film with, and the American wizards in the film.
The Overstuffed Plot
For the first 30 minutes of the film, I found myself back in the world of magic. Newt’s hijinks in the bank, precocious Niffler, and meeting all of the other beasts inside the case was nothing short of beautiful. You could feel Newt’s love for his creatures, and Jacob’s awe over them was almost tangible. No matter how irritatingly empty the rest of the film may have felt, nothing can take those few moments of magic away.
But we’re still going to talk about the rest of it.
Early on, we see Graves showing obvious concern for Tina. There’s something that makes him upset about the decision made by the president and concerned for her future. Farrell makes these emotions obvious, but the connection between the two, much like most of the plot points in the film, was dropped. There was full opportunity in the Pensieve acid room when we see glimpses of Tina’s memories to get a better understanding of how these two characters relate to one another but no.
The Credence portion of the story had the potential to be something compelling; instead, it was used as a side note. It was like Fantastic Beasts was trying to be two films and neither one really got the attention that they deserved. On one side, there was Newt trying to convince the wizarding community that these beasts were not to be feared, and him breaking every law possible to do so. On the other, Graves and Credence’s mission to find the child that was causing the Obscurus. If either was explored fully, it could have been something truly great, but instead, the audience received two half notions trying to be a full film.
Speaking of Mr. Scamander breaking every law in the book throughout the whole film, his convenient decision not to at the end of the story at the expense of one of the only true friends he’s ever made was absurd. Literally, all he’d done through his arc is break the law. Turns out Jacob just wasn’t important enough to do that for. The ending alludes to the fact that this won’t be permanent, now that Queenie has returned into Jacob’s life, but the overall choice was still unmotivated.
Continuing in the theme of “what, why?” the American Muggle community finding out about the wizards was wholly avoidable. Whole wars have been fought without the Muggles discovering the Wizarding World. It was a lazy plot device thrown in for more drama.
The American Wizards
This part of the movie was so irritating that it gets its own special corner in this review. I’m unsure if Rowling and her team consciously decided to make the American wizarding community actively awful or not, but that was what was put on screen. You’ll notice that in no point in this review do I use the term “No-Maj,” how American wizards refer to a non-magical person. Whereas Muggle is used by most English wizards as a descriptor, No-Maj had a negative connotation that made it feel deeply insulting.
Perhaps it’s the way that the Americans treat those without magic. Newt notes early on in the film that they have a backwards way of treating them. The depiction of the American wizards in Fantastic Beasts has put a sour taste in my mouth for them.
All in all, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a fun ride but left me unfulfilled. It doesn’t change my love for the franchise, nor does it stop me from needing all the Niffler collectibles in my life immediately, but it does make me hope for some changes in their future films to get back to the magic that makes the Harry Potter universe wonderful.
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