casey Remember when movies were just movies? When everything wasn’t a shared universe that tied to everything else? I’m not that old and I know that world once existed. You made a good movie, five years later you rounded up whoever you could from the original cast and you crapped out a sequel. Occasionally the sequel was better, but mostly you were lucky if it was passable. Done and done. But here we are, in the age of the Eternal Franchise, where soon every movie will be part of the same shared Fictionverse, everything a continuation of everything else, nothing being resolved, and the entirety of pop culture devouring its own tail in a never ending cycle of reboots and universe building. Oh man, I think I’m getting old.
brooke I feel this quote from 10 Things I Hate About You is an appropriate description: “I know you can be underwhelmed, and you can be overwhelmed, but can you ever just be, like, whelmed?”
casey So…do we have to watch five more of these, or what?
brooke Uhhhh let’s maybe skip the sequels. We’ll talk. We’re making it sound terrible already, so we should dive into what we liked and didn’t like about it.
casey I think it was pretty bad, verging on train wreck territory, with mumbly characters whose motivations made no sense, boring actions scenes, and a larger arc that seems to rely way too heavily on the viewer being steeped in the Potter mythology.
brooke The movie’s only saving grace is the views. Beautiful costumes, scenery, and CGI magic. The beasts are perhaps less than fantastic, but the space around them is perfectly dressed. It definitely relies too heavily on the viewer’s knowledge of pre-Potter days, including the infamous wizard Gellert Grindelwald. It’s kind of infuriating. It easily had the space to get viewers up to speed, but beyond a few headlines flashing across the screen for the first 30 seconds (which in our theater were too blurry to read as the projectionist adjusted the lens), there’s really no help from the film. That fault also lies with the terrible screenplay, which you can buy, because of course you can. We love your books, JK Rowling, but you need to walk away from Harry Potter some day. Especially the American side you’re trying to build.
casey One thing I agree with: The setting can be really neat. Even though it’s mostly computer generated, I’m a sucker for prohibition-era cities and that whole aesthetic. But it’s not enough to rescue a boring movie with boring characters.
brooke So let’s get around to the story: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes its title from a Hogwarts textbook mentioned in the Harry Potter books and movies. The author of the textbook, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), is the main character here. As the movie begins he’s just arrived in 1920s New York carrying a suitcase loaded up with creatures, because magic, and almost immediately starts running into trouble when some of the creatures escape. While chasing one of the them, he meets a Muggle–the American word is “No-Maj”–named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and a witch named Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). A classic switcheroo blunder causes the No-Maj to accidentally let more creatures out, and the group, also including Tina’s sister Queenie (Allison Sudol), is forced to hunt for them. Meanwhile, there’s also a subplot about humans trying to bring back Salem-style witch hunts with some connection to the magical government.
casey And then a bunch of stuff happens and none of it feels like it matters. Kowalski is the audience surrogate, except the films already assume you know already know about Harry Potter and don’t care about this particular plot, so he just tags along for whenever the movie needs someone to be rescued. There’s also a theme of Newt as a sort of rogue zoologist intent on preserving these magical creatures that the wizarding community doesn’t value, except it’s never explained why that’s the case or what the stakes are. Queenie is the only character with any real personality; I’d have much preferred to see a movie focused on her.
brooke Seriously? Queenie’s personality is all speaking softly, flirting a little bit with whoever was in the room, and posing while wearing pink. Meanwhile Newt’s character is built mostly around avoiding eye contact.
The movie I might actually watch would be a horror film about the freaky New Salem anti-witch cult as they wreak havoc on the wizarding community of prohibition-era NYC.
casey Hey, I didn’t say Queenie was great, just better than the rest those bores! I think what it comes down to is that Harry Potter, for all it’s justifiable acclaim, is a story for and about adolescent kids. It’s fantastic for what it is. It’s not about epic battles or heroic archetypes ala Tolkien, and it’s not really rich with symbolism or mythology. To me, it’s about kids dealing with wonder, discovery, friendship, loss, and growing up. You can’t really do that in a story about adults. And Fantastic Beasts doesn’t really have…anything else at all. It’s empty.
brooke I couldn’t agree more. It’s just a shell of a film. I suppose in the end it wasn’t that bad, but it just wasn’t any good.