Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, we’ve apparated to discuss Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, which premiered in the U.S. on Friday, November 18th, 2016.
Sound Off! is meant to be a group of reactions, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places. You may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching, but it’s safe to say that if you haven’t yet seen Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and you read this post, you WILL be spoiled in some form or fashion.
Now, join Nancy, Nicole, and J.L. Gribble as they talk about Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them!
Nancy: Hollywood seems to be carving out out two paths when it comes to movie prequels. On one hand, you have the dumpster fire route (the Star Wars Prequels). On the other, you have a genuinely good time at the movies that leaves you feeling just the tiniest bit disappointed when it fails to reach the heights of the originals (The Hobbit movies).
And for what it’s worth, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them wisely eschews the first path for the second.
There’s a lot to enjoy about Fantastic Beasts. As someone who’s been a Harry Potter fan since I was twelve, I really enjoyed how the movie opened doors to other areas of the Harry Potter universe, telling the stories of new characters, in a new place (New York) and time (the 1920s). The characters presented here are quite likable, especially Newt Scamander himself, played by the talented Eddie Redmayne, who manages to be both cripplingly awkward and wonderfully charming in a way that the British can only really achieve. I quite enjoyed getting to meet both his menagerie of magical beasts, as well as the allies he meets while in America (which includes a Muggle!).
But that’s not the only thing going on in Fantastic Beasts. There’s a mysterious force attacking New York City, an anti-witch group protesting in the street, politicians in both the wizarding and non-wizarding worlds, the investigations of an American auror, the whispers of an evil wizard on the loose, the belief that magical creatures are nothing more than killers, and more personal journeys. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to juggle all of these aspects successfully, but Fantastic Beasts doesn’t quite manage it. As a result, the movie can feel a bit on the messy side, with some areas clearly undeveloped. There’s even a pretty big reveal at the end that doesn’t quite have the punch that it’s clearly going for, which is a shame. I also have some concerns that the movie isn’t the most friendly to new viewers, which is a strange choice for the first entry in a new series.
I came out of Fantastic Beasts all around happy, both with the film I had just seen and with the thought of getting a new Harry Potter movie every year or two. At the same time, it’s just not as good as any of the original Potter movies or books. But that’s the problem with making a follow up to a classic for the ages. People are going to get excited about the thought of new stories, but there’s no escaping that long shadow cast by the originals.
So if you’re a Harry Potter fan, I’d certainly recommend seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Just make sure you keep your expectations in check.
Nicole: I was pretty hyped to go see the movie since everyone around me kept saying that I should.
I’m not so hyped now.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this movie. To be fair, I didn’t know what to expect. Who was going to be the bad guy? Newt Scamander is a Magizoologist — who the heck is he supposed to do battle with? And the trailers clearly indicated battling was going to happen. At best I guessed something escaped from his suitcase, terribleness ensued, and he along with others would be forced to subdue it.
Which was true, sort of. But not quite. There are enough references that Harry Potter fans will immediately know who/what certain things are. Grindelwald is a dark wizard that Dumbledore defeated — something that was discussed in The Deathly Hallows. But for newcomers to the series, the name is lost on them. They know he’s bad, but they don’t know how bad. After all, this was the fellow who wielded the Elder Wand until his defeat.
But the focus is supposed to be on Newt and his magical beasts, right? His goal is to help release a thunderbird (that, oddly enough, looks like a gryphon rather than a giant eagle) back in Arizona, but first has to make his way through New York — I guess because he wanted to see the city? Did one have to go through New York in the 20s before going anywhere else? Anyway, as expected, things go wrong. Throw in a rogue MACUSA agent, rogue wizarding power, and some woman who is espousing the evil of witches, and…yeah.
While the story was interesting, I kind of prefer my idea. The antagonist isn’t truly evil, which always makes for a unique experience, and nothing ended the way I thought it would. And there are a lot of things I can’t say I’m a fan of. For example, Tina used to be an Auror — so why does she come off as so bumbling and incompetent? And why does she fold so quickly — and into tears, no less — under everyone a step above her? And I still don’t understand why they were going to execute her. Graves’s orders or no, isn’t that something he shouldn’t have jurisdiction over if he too is just an Auror? Newt also uses a Swooping Evil in several very important occasions — so you’d think they’d be in his book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but guess what? They’re not. Neither are thunderbirds, by the way. And what the heck was that singer in the bar supposed to be? A female goblin? And why was a giant in there? I started to feel like they were shoehorning in stuff just for the sake of it.
It’s just filled with a lot of things that don’t work for me (super convenient obliviate method there, Newt) that seem to counteract the things that do work. I’m kind of let down, really, because I’d hoped the story would focus on the beasts and Newt, rather than go off on a Grindelwald tangent that again, didn’t really make much sense.
Oh, and Hollywood? I really, really do not approve of your actor choice for Grindelwald at the end. I like the man, but no. Please stop thinking you’re smart and cheeky, because you aren’t, and I don’t appreciate it.
J.L. Gribble: I’ve seen a lot of fantasy properties billed as “Harry Potter for adults” in the past decade or so, but the description always seemed to ring false for me, even for the things that I loved (such as the television show The Magicians). However, halfway through watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I sat higher in my seat and thought, “This. This is what they always meant and never got quite right.”
I shouldn’t be surprised that it took J.K. Rowling herself to bring the rest of the Wizarding World to life. I’m pleased that I finally have something to point to when people dismiss her as “just a kid’s book writer.” While she’s not my favorite writer of all time, and I have significant issues with the way the Harry Potter series played out, even I have to admit that it takes an enormous amount of skill to age a book series along with the characters the way she did, and then take it a step further to bring adults into the fold — in a completely different mode of storytelling, no less.
I’ve already read reviews that bring characters like Newt and Tina to task, in terms of how much of the plot wouldn’t have occurred if they weren’t making terrible decisions (fix your damn suitcase, Newt!). But caught up in the moment of watching the film, none of that mattered to me. Since I didn’t start reading the Harry Potter novels until late into my teens, this was the first time I was coming to this world as a native rather than an immigrant. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them includes so many dark themes, such as child abuse, the rift between the magical and no-maj/muggle worlds, and the isolationism of the American magical society away from the threats of Europe, which parallels so much of what was going on politically in that era, but are things adult viewers would have a better context for. While adult doesn’t necessarily have to mean “dark,” this was a story that swept me up and never downplayed anything for the sake of age-appropriateness. This was the wizarding world created for me, and I loved every second of it.