Fantastic Beasts & where to find them REVIEW

Yes… this contains spoilers. AND it’s my last post before I got on a holiday hiatus! Posting will resume January 2017.

What I liked

I liked that all the characters were a bit… odd. Even the main ones. Newt barely ever made eye-contact with the other characters, often had an unreadable expression, and kept tilting his head to the right. Tina at first seemed permanently about to burst into tears with a similar unreadable expression. These are not conventional heroes. Instead it felt as though they had simply been stuck in a random adventure, and that was refreshing.

Jacob was not the stock standard fat-guy-who-is-comic relief. I thought he reacted very realistically (loved his scream when Newt disappeared into the suitcase) and he wasn’t over the top bumbling at all, which could have been very easy to do.

I liked the questioning before the execution scene… I felt it was finally a chance to strip back the fun with the beasts and get to the heart of these characters. Not that we really did, but without it would have been even worse! I enjoyed that Newt was mistaken for his famous older brother, and that Dumbledore stood up for him. He’s played as a confident victim of life which is a rare trope.

I also enjoyed that the film was a bit ‘darker’ – it dealt with deep problems. In one sense it did so in a shallow way, using familiar pieces (the abused children, the evil mother, the socially-awkward outcast protagonist, the factory worker who dreams of being a baker because of his dead grandmother) but it’s hard to avoid these. There’s nothing new under the sun, and the film at least tries to provide food for thought.

What I disliked

Tina at the beginning. Not only did she vacillate between overly frustrated or about to burst into tears, but I don’t like the way she kept dragging Newt around and bursting into (obviously) private meetings. She was an auror! At this point the audience isn’t really aware of what she’s trying to achieve, and it all just seems a bit messy and forced. Surely she can deal with Newt breaking the law without bodily dragging him around? And why is she always about to cry?

The main characters didn’t actually do much in the main conflict, the climatic scene or the ending. It was a bit anticlimactic. Newt and Tina try to rescue the misunderstood Credence. The bad guy tries to win him over. The other good guys arrive and kill Credence. The bad guy escapes. What do Newt and Tina do? Well Tina does nothing. Newt releases his huge phoenix-like creature (which he was going to do anyway) and with it an obliviation spell which supposedly wipes the memories of all of New York.

Tina wears pants through the entire film (while all other female characters dressed in similar fashion stuck to skirts) until the last parting scene when she becomes the ‘love interest’. Then all of a sudden she’s wearing a skirt. Maybe it was planned to show her love for Newt (that she wears a skirt for him? Really?) but it still seems a bit ridiculous.

Also – why did Tina’s extracted ‘good’ memories suddenly turn ‘bad’ – only to display the most crucial scene possible? It felt contrived.

What I valued above all

As soon as the film began to set up the ‘persecution against witches and wizards’ theme I became a bit frustrated. I feared the message would become ‘magic is good’ and ‘witches are just misunderstood good guys – when in reality, magic (and using the power of demons) is evil, and this is not the case.

This is, in fact, one of the reasons why the Harry Potter series is so controversial in some circles.

Yet I think there is one thing which makes the series no more ‘wrong’ than any other fantasy series involving magic or wizards – none of the characters choose their powers. Like most Young Adult fiction, there are ‘chosen ones’ and ‘the rest’. This is highlighted even more clearly in ‘Fantastic Beasts’ – Credence can’t escape his powers and Jacob can’t learn any. One cannot leave the wizarding world and the other can’t join it as a wizard.

On the contrary, in real-life, common-sense teaches us that no one is actually born with magic. They may claim so, to be sure, but often only after a certain age. After they’ve had time to learn about it. I valued the fact that this film kept the distinction clear.

Rowling creates a beautiful, fascinating, fantastical world in which we can learn things about our world and ourselves – but it is not, and will never be, reality.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.

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