27/11/16, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
It was the weekend after graduation, we're Creative Writing MSc post-grads, it was appropriate to go and see this film, and in 3D IMAX too. Harry Potter has become so integral a part of the literary landscape, at least from a UK perspective, like football among blokes, that everyone has a perspective, for good or ill. Of the original seven books by JK Rowling (the first one apparently written here in Edinburgh, in The Elephant House café on George IV street – which I can't be bothered visiting, for all the tourists who seem to stare at it), I thought the first one was cute, the third and fourth genuinely excellent, and bits of the rest well-made and overall, very readable. Like so many, back in the time (1997-2007, as I recall), I got excited at the arrival of a new story (despite being in my twenties), went out asap to get my copy, would read it in bars and cafes, while everyone else read theirs at their relaxed locations. As global phenomenon goes, it was one of the nicer ones.
So to this film: I don't doubt a new franchise is underway. The ending, for one, sets up future episodes with a glimpse of the 'new' villain, Grindelwald, (SPOILER ALERT) played by Johnny Depp and dressed and made up – as I perceive it – to look like Sherlock Holmes's nemesis, Moriarty. Does this mean a 'young' Dumbledore will appear in future episodes, battling him in a Holmes-Moriarty way?
If so, then I hope for films with clearer narratives than this one. There is much in FBAWTFT that involves Redmayne's awkward, Dr-Who character running around, chasing after the unusual animals that have escaped his magical brief case. The 'real' darker plot, such as it is, is consequently pushed to the background. The real star of the film, in terms of character arc and screen time, is Dan Fogler's 'no-mag' character Jacob Kowalski, a decent, chubby everyman stumbling through life, hating his factory job but without the money to escape it by chasing his dreams. He helps Redmayne's Newt Scamander find and return the escaped animals, and in being allowed into this magical world, discovers love and friendship and the opportunity to be a hero, all of which he gladly embraces.
As said, the consequence is the darker, more serious 'other' plot is pushed to the side. It involves some kind of monster-spirit killing people in scenes I would describe as unsettling for a family movie. In this second, darker plot, we have Colin Farrell's ambiguous wizard-police agent trying to capture the evil monster-spirit. We have a disturbing anti-magical family of staircases and shadows and the suggestion of child abuse who come and go in this second, darker plot. Ezra Miller's Tom-Riddle-esque character Credence becomes pivotal, and with it, a theme of the dangers of repressing your inner-nature.
In truth, though, this second, darker plot fails to engage. The 'big reveal' at the end isn't properly developed and so left me nonplussed, the character Credence insufficiently fleshed out, Colin Farrell's detective too two-dimensional. Johnny Depp's appearance is more 'cameo' than performance, he utters something seemingly important as he's taken away at the end that neither I nor my friends could understand. The poorly executed scene sums up this second, darker plot.So to conclude: FBAWTFT is a film with two parallel plots – always a difficult thing to pull off. This film fails to do so. The first, lighter plot has its charms, the second darker one suffers from lack of screen time and accompanying substance. An uneven film, therefore, that will leave you unengaged at the big final action moments when you feel you should be engaged. For the more cynical among you, the added thought as Depp's smirking, incomprehensible Grindelwald is taken away, 'there goes a rat leaving a sinking (pirate) ship for the next big franchise.' But for me too, nice to see a happy ending for the no-mag Kowalski, the real star of this movie, and a cute message from the film as a whole: nice guys don't always finish last.