As a lifelong Harry Potter fan and someone who will firmly defend the belief that that series changed my entire life, I received the news of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movies with mixed opinions. On the one hand, I thought it was awesome – the wizarding world that Rowling created is massive, and there is still so much than can be done with it. I want to see the story of Gellert Grindelwald and Dumbledore explored. I want to see the Marauders in closer detail. I want to see more of that persistent subplot about magical creatures like goblins and centaurs searching for their right to govern their own lives in a world dominated by wizarding kind. There’s still so much that can be done with this world, and as long as J.K. Rowling is the one agreeing to return to it, then I am totally on board with seeing more.
But, at the same time, it has been a few years since Rowling has visited the wizarding world, and particularly after the release of the somewhat underwhelming script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I found myself getting nervous that she just wasn’t in the right place in her life to continue this story and do it justice. As much as I wanted to see more from the wizarding world, I didn’t want it to be written for the sole purpose of making more money. I wanted it to be written because there was more of a story to be told.
But, that being said, I was still eager to see the movie. Whether it turned out to be bad or good, I knew I had to see it. I avoided all reviews of it, just so I could show up with a fresh and open mind, and as soon as my exam schedule cleared up enough for me to be free enough to see it, I was in the movie theatre, barely able to believe that I was actually about to see a continuation of Harry Potter.
And you know what? It was alright. Not great or magical or transformative like the original Harry Potter series, but firmly and undeniably better than Cursed Child. I found myself enjoying some aspects, and I found myself questioning others, but altogether, I left the movie theatre without any glaring disappointments.
So, without further ado, let’s explore the ways this movie worked and the ways it didn’t.
1. The Characters
As much as I tried to avoid reviews of this movie, there was one opinion that I overheard before showing up at the movie theatre, and that was that the characters weren’t fleshed out enough. And as much as very few of them received in-depth explorations or anything like that, I found that, particularly for just a first film, an introduction to what will become an entire series, these characters received as much exploration as they needed – enough to make them likeable, but not so much that it distracted from the plot.
Eddie Redmayne provided a very likeable performance as Newt Scamander, and his relationship with his beasts (particularly the bowtruckle) most certainly made him that much more endearing to me.
Queenie Goldstein (played by Alison Sudol) was a very sweet, somewhat innocent character who provided something very intriguing with her ability to read minds – something that I really hope is explored more in the upcoming sequels.
And Credence Barebone (played by Ezra Miller) was a very interesting character – most certainly the one that receives the most in-depth exploration throughout the film.
Overall, I found the characters to be very likeable, which is most certainly an important part of a film like this (with the possible exception of Tina Goldstein, who received only the slightest exploration and, as a result, came across as very one-dimensional to me).
2. The fantastic beasts
Animals are very easy to make endearing, and there’s something even better about them when they’re magical animals who we get to see explored for the first time.
There are whole scenes in this film where we just see the characters walking amongst the beasts in Newt Scamander’s briefcase, and these scenes are magnificent. The animals look beautiful, and I find myself looking between them and wondering what each one does.
My personal favourite beast was the bowtruckle – an adorable little creature in Newt Scamander’s pocket with ‘attachment issues’. That one in particular just filled me with the urge to run home and give my dog a hug.
1. Credence Barebone (Spoiler Alert)
Oh, it hurts me to say this, particularly because I previously said that he was a good part of this film.
Let me get this straight – this has nothing to do with Ezra Miller’s performance. Ezra Miller was fantastic. This has everything to do with the writing around his character, particularly near the end of the film.
They spend the whole film ‘tricking’ you into thinking that Credence’s sister is the witch because an obscurus is always a child. But then when they find out that Credence is actually the wizard, they just sort of throw in a single line that states, “oh, I guess he’s just so powerful that he lived like than the rest”. I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough. Why is he so powerful? What’s different about him? What does him being this powerful mean?
And then, to make matters worse, after giving us only a peek into his character, allowing us to see him beyond being just a simple, damaged boy who grew up in an abusive environment, they just kill him off. No further exploration, no chance at redemption, his storyline just sort of ends, and the audience is left just sort of thinking, “oh”.
And that is so disappointing, because there is still so much than could be done with Credence’s character. What if they hadn’t killed him off? What if he had gone off with Grindelwald? What if he got to actually experience the wizarding world? What if Tina refused to give up on him, constantly trying to pull him back because she knows that he can be a good person? What if his relationship with Tina was explored at all – because, really, they set up that she was the only person who ever really tried to help him, but then that amounts to nothing more than what Newt Scamander already did before her.
Altogether, I just feel like Credence was a very interesting character with so much squandered potential. I hope that J.K. Rowling can come up with some bullshit about how he’s not really dead in the sequels, so that he can get the storyline he deserves.
2. Gellert Grindelwald (spoiler)
Okay, so I know that I said that I wanted to see the storyline of Gellert Grindelwald explored fully, and Rowling’s choice to include him in this movie is not at all what I am complaining about. I’m actually excited to see more of him going forward, especially when Dumbledore inevitably gets involved.
But it was far too early in the series to bring him in directly, and far too early to have him arrested, particularly because, really, it served no purpose. What was the point of making Graves Grindelwald in disguise? Why couldn’t Graves have simply been one of Grindelwald’s followers? Doesn’t Grindelwald have better things to do than be an auror for the New York wizarding community? How long has he been there? Has he had to set up a whole imaginary life for this job? What does being an auror help him with?
And, yes, I know that Voldemort was technically defeated in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but he was defeated only because baby-Harry contained the power of love unknowingly in his touch – until that point, he was actually a huge threat to the lives and well-being of our characters. With Grindelwald, he’s just sort of taken prisoner and arrested and that’s that. We’re introduced to the great dark wizard before Voldemort, and then – oh, he’s arrested. Well, okay, onto rain that erases people’s memories even if they’re indoors, I guess.
3. The plot was too predictable (Spoilers)
The plot wasn’t bad, but I did find that I knew what was going to happen well before it did.
Jacob sees a bubble of floating black stuff out of the corner of his eye, and right away I knew that that was going to be the dangerous beast that he isn’t allowed to touch, and that will be the big bad that they had to face in the movie’s climax.
They introduce a woman with a plethora of kids who is outspokenly opposed to witches, and right away I knew that one of her children was either a witch or a wizard, and chances are, it was probably the one who the film focused on the most – not his sister, like they tried to make us think it was.
Credence starts attacking the city in his obscurus form, and right away I knew that the laws of film wouldn’t allow him to survive to the sequel.
Graves has the same haircut as Grindelwald (which is even emphasized in the shots through which they are introduced), and right away I knew that Graves worked for Grindelwald (okay, I didn’t know that he was Grindelwald himself, but that was a stupid twist anyway).
My point is, the whole film just sort of felt like paint-by-numbers – I knew every step before it came.
Overall, I’m not disappointed with the film. I will definitely return to it in the future, to enjoy the fantastic beasts and the characters around them. But, that being said, there is still a lot of room for improvement – and, fortunately, I still have four more movies to see that improvement made.