Fantastic (and not so fantastic) Beasts: A double review

Somewhere in your life you’ve probably been exposed to the Harry Potter series. Some only saw the movies while some both read the books and watched the movies. Some were happy with what was translated to the big screen some weren’t. I belong to that category that did read the books and was happy for the most part with the movies. And Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 gave an unforgettable experience to the characters and world that the movie and book fans alike that will no doubt last forever. However, in attempt to continue the Harry Potter lore on the big screen came the Fantastic Beasts movies. Despite only two so far, they haven’t been able to achieve the same success as the Harry Potter books. So let’s take a look.  

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The first Fantastic Beasts movie was released in 2016. The story takes place in 1926 and involves a young Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who has completed a global excursion for magical creatures. While taking a stop in New York, he accidentally switches cases with a Muggle named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) while Jacob inadvertently releases many of Newt’s creatures upon the world which leads to great troubles for the non-magic and magic worlds alike. The movie very much feels like two different stories stuck together. The first is a simple tale of Newt’s suitcase of creatures being opened leading to a wild chase around the city for them before the Muggles catch them first. It’s simple but it’s charming thanks to a good variety of factors: Eddie Redmayne gave a lot of heart, likability, and quirkiness to the character of Newt, Dan Fogler’s Jacob is absolutely hilarious in his reactions to the magic world, and I thoroughly enjoyed the character of Queenie. The only character that came off as a little rough among our heroes is Tina who felt less energetic compared to everyone else. The look of the 1920s Wizarding world was also a positive quality with the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) set and the costume design. There’s a beautiful scene where Newt gives background on all the beasts to Jacob. So, what are the problems with this movie? Well for one as I mentioned before the movie does feel like two different stories and the second story dealing with what abuse can affect a wizard at a young age, did feel more tacked on so as to find a way to use this movie to jump-start a new series. It’s not a bad story per se, if anything its dark concept is very interesting but compared to what we started out with there’s no real ease into it so to speak. Another criticism I have is of Grindelwald: One is that of his plan to harness the Obscurus for his evil army. Why on earth did he dedicate so many years to an alternate identity working through the ranks of MACUSA to do so? Two is something I’ll get to in a moment as we don’t see him as Grindelwald for that long and the sequel had more of him enough to say what I want to say there. Finally there’s the thing of wizard world America which felt far more one-dimensional and rushed compared to how well the British wizard world was. So overall this movie was rather hit or miss, but it carried enough charm to keep me invested and did feel like it was trying well enough to establish its own thing.  

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The second Fantastic Beasts movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald, was released two years later. This time Grindelwald, who has escaped MACUSA custody, seeks to raise an army of pure blood wizards to rule over the muggles. Thus, young Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists the help of Newt who agrees not knowing of the many dangers along the way. Along the way lines are drawn and love and loyalties are tested among friends and family in the wizard world. Sadly this may very well be the worst movie associated with Harry Potter lore yet. Now by Harry Potter lore standards bad is still relatively watchable but man was this movie was a mess. There is just so much going on in this movie between Grindelwald’s plan, Jacob (who somehow got his memories back through a really lousy explanation) and Queenie’s relationship, a misunderstanding between Newt and Tina involving a mistake of him being engaged to an old Hogwarts classmate Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) when it was actually his brother Theseus (Callum Turner), and Credence from the last movie being alive. It came to the point where I found it difficult to care for much of anyone or anything. In fact Newt felt almost secondary in his own movie. But there are plenty more problems to go through. A flashback shows Professor McGonagall who was NOT alive at this point much less teaching at Hogwarts. Also, you can’t apparate in or out of Hogwarts. That’s been established quite a few times. These are continuity errors that really should not be in this movie. Secondly remember what I said in the first movie about that other problem I had with Grindelwald. Well given he’s in a lot more of this movie I’ll talk about it here. Regardless of whether you like or hate Johnny Depp he was not the right person to portray this character. With many past Harry Potter villains I have loved to hate them in their evil. And they’ve been memorable in each movie. I do not get that same feeling with Depp’s Grindelwald at all. It’s also my understanding that Grindelwald much like Voldemort after is a wizard world equivalent of Hitler in his subjugation of Muggles. With this in mind it’s downright baffling that a Jewish woman like Queenie would even be tempted to join with Grindelwald. The woman’s a skilled Legilimens to pick up on his agenda and even if Grindelwald knows Occlumency well surely she would have some common sense to pick up on the fact that something just didn’t feel right with the crowd she was in? It really made her character, who I found one of the more charming parts of the first movie, EXTREMELY unlikable. Also it’s implied that if the wizard world followed Grindelwald’s orders, many horrors could be prevented including the Holocaust which is downright horrifying. Then there’s Nagini. Now I actually wasn’t against the idea of her being played by an Asian woman but the idea of her curse of being an animal and being used at a freakshow as an attraction is just…unpleasant. Even more when J.K. Rowling has stated that all Maledictuses are female and she’s destined to just completely being Voldemort’s pet. Finally there’s the twist at the end involving Credence being a brother of Dumbledore. I am hoping this turns out to be a lie because if it isn’t that is a TERRIBLE piece of information that Dumbledore and his brother withheld from Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Also assuming it’s true wouldn’t Rita Skeeter have dug this up in Goblet of Fire? The woman was well capable of finding skeletons in closets. The only upsides I can think of are Jude Law as Dumbledore and Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange but they are hardly enough to save this travesty. Those two and once again the scenes of Newt and his creatures as well as the costume design is well done again. But overall this movie was just completely all over the map.

Sadly though despite a third film being on the way there hasn’t been given much prospect of the future of this series. Maybe it’ll get better. Maybe it won’t. But no matter how this series turns out at least we have no shortage of good Harry Potter adventures to remember.