[Here be Spoiler Alerts.]
We went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, because Harry Potter. It’s a dazzling movie, to be sure, and the performances are all spot-on, with the four main characters especially charming and adorable.
We left feeling very unsatisfied. The plotting is haphazard and whatever suspense there might be in figuring out what’s going on is dissipated by the most telegraphing since the Titanic went down. It relied a lot on fan service, i.e., our prior knowledge of the Potterverse, to keep us on board, and the middle third especially just dragged.
We were appalled at the loose threads in the plot. What exactly did the newspaper publisher/senator story have to do with anything? Was it simply for the Citizen Kane shot being destroyed by the Obscurus? Not enough. I got the feeling there was a lot left on the cutting room floor, because the paltry conflict within that plotline was never integrated at all with the main plot. J. Jonah Jameson, Jon Voight was not.
The conflict that seemed to be driving the American wizards (remaining hidden from Non-Maj society, etc.) was never fleshed out, and the “villainous” Mary Lou who rants on the steps of the bank about the danger of witches among us never seemed more than your usual NYC crackpot. The idea that she posed a credible threat to the magical community was dumb—her headquarters was a rundown hellhole, while MACUSA occupied a luxurious Art Deco skyscraper.
And what was the deal with Scamander’s relationship with the Lestrange girl back at Hogwarts? We may never know. We certainly don’t know what it had to do with the current movie, other than to allow Scamander to display some empathy with poor Credence Barebone, whose relationship with Tina Goldstein is likewise never fully explained. (There is an explanation, kind of, but like everything else in the movie it’s compressed and rushed.)
The final reveal, that Graves is actually Grindlewald, raises more questions than it solves: Graves is head of the Aurors at MACUSA—how long has Grindlewald been disguised in order to ascend to that position?? I don’t think it’s justifiable that eventually the good Potterian will think, “Ah, it must have been Polyjuice Potion,” even though we never see any evidence of that.
(I just went to the Wikipedia article on the film in order to remember the term “Obscurus,” and was shocked to find in the synopsis details that were not at all clear in the movie. There are also details which apparently the author of the Wikipedia article got from the film which I think are wrong. Sloppy, and I’m talking about the filmmakers.)
The fantastic beasts were fantastic, but again, they felt glued onto the plot. They were mostly deployed for slapstick interludes, and we never got to be familiar with any of them except for the Niffler and the Bowtruckle (who smacked of Baby Groot, alas).
After we got home, we kept gnawing on the sources of our discontent, as one does, when it finally dawned on us: the problem was not so much with the movie itself as it was that it shouldn’t have been the first Newt Scamander movie. This was the second Fantastic Beasts film. The first film introduced us to Newt Scamander as he scours the earth for these creatures, along with flashbacks to his problems at Hogwarts leading to his expulsion, culminating in the rescue of the… whatever the big bird thing was in the second movie… a Thunderbird, maybe?… in Egypt. This propels us into the second film, as Scamander comes to America to release the Thunderbird into its native habitat in Arizona (mentioned briefly in the film), and gives more breathing space for actual plot.
Somebody really should be paying me big bucks to do this thinking for them. Jo?