Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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.

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4 comments

  1. Allan · December 11

    In addition to not knowing who Grinenwald was at all but feeling like the film just expected us to, Sam and I were left with a few questions:

    1) what are the magic cops called? Ors? Oars? Orgs? We could never tell what the hell Tina was saying they were. And yeah lots of mumbling all around.

    2) why does a disgraced Ork have such ready access to the president of the American magic world? Doesn’t she have a security detail or some type of secretary that would be a gatekeeper?

    3) why is Tina a disgraced ord exactly? She used her magic on an abusive woman and a team had to come in and wipe memories of about 15 or 20 people? Is that really a scandal or just an inconvenience? Maybe if you showed us what she…. oh nope? Ok moving on.

    4) What did Jon Voight, his senator son, and the third son have to do with this movie? We kept thinking that the senator was going to turn out to be the father of one of the kids. And the other son was the most perplexing of them. Why did he exist? Why was he so interested in the anti witch lady? Also after everyone forgets all the magic they’ve seen, the senator is still dead right? How do people re-remember how he died? Who is going to replace him in the Senate? Is this when Jar-Jar Binks enters the scene so we can have a crossover between the Harry Potter universe and the Star Wars universe?

    5) Did Grindelwald kill and replace Colin Farrell or was he always a fake identity? How long did Tina work with him? It seems like they know each other but we couldn’t tell.

    6) what is the relationship between Tina and Newt supposed to be? Is there supposed to be romance there? Because she was really choked up about his leaving and promise of return in more than a friend way, but I wasn’t getting that from him at all. And was he more than friends with the girl in the photo? I’m not sure how Sam felt, but I wasn’t entirely reading Newt as hetero. They mentioned dumbledore being fond of newt and newt brushing it off quickly as not knowing why dumbledore would speak highly of him. And with the whole Rowling saying dumbledore was gay thing, I thought that was a lovers quarrel type of response. So yeah, seriously read newt as gay for about an hour of the movie. And then I didn’t know what to believe. Or what the film wanted me to think.

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    • Brooke W · December 12

      SO MANY GOOD POINTS.

      1. Magic cops are called aurors. It’s a terrible word to say ONE TIME and never come back to.
      2. I DON’T KNOW WTF
      3. Yeah, that didn’t really make sense. Like, It felt maybe tied up in their screwy No-Maj politics?
      4. I HAVE NO IDEA I KEPT ASKING MYSELF HOW THAT WOULD TIE IN AND THEN IT JUST DIDN’T
      5. I ALSO HAVE THIS QUESTION
      6. Until the picture thing, I was sort of reading Newt as more asexual? Like he legitimately didn’t appear to have interest in other humans sooooooooo… I hadn’t thought about the Dumbledore thing in that way, but I can see what you mean. Maybe he’s bi?

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      • Allan Davis · December 14

        Aurors is such a British word. No US system is going to pick that contorting of vowels and mouth to refer to policing powers.

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      • Brooke W · December 15

        Yet another example of how little research Rowling did on her American story.

        Like

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