Welcome to the Walking Rants, where I get worked up about something when I’m en route to somewhere on foot and I forgot my earbuds so I’m left alone with my thoughts. Or, in this case, where I get so worked up about a movie that when I go home I watch the movie and it’s sequel and leave disliking the movie even more so than before.
This turned out into a whole behemoth of a review and is hella biased because I have opinions on things. At first I just wrote down the little things that bothered me about the movie, but because I hadn’t seen it in a while I decided to watch it again and then watched the second one. And I came too realize this movie is broken at it’s core, which lead me to write down everything that bothered me about this movie and that… well if you think this blog post is too long, know it was almost twice this size.
I limited myself to 5 issues to talk (read: complain) about.
But first some context in the form of my state of mind when I entered the theater
Rowling has steadily been losing credibility over the years with every “reveil” she has done.
Listen, accept this advise from a known dumbass. In the long run, it’s just better to admit that you made mistakes than retconning a snake into an Asian woman. And you’ll look less stupid too.
Like the one where she said racism didn’t exist in the wizard world?
No matter how cut off wizarding world is, are you telling me that while today’s societal structures were build over centuries of time, nothing ever influenced them at all?
This especially doesn’t make sense since in Fantastic Beasts Newt says “when we were hunted, before wizards went underground”. European witch prosecution was at its height in like the 16th century. That’s a whole lot of time before cutting yourself off from the “muggle world” to be influenced by Western ideals.
Or that pottermore diddy she wrote about wizards not needing to go to the bathroom because they shit their pants and then ***magicked*** their shit away?
So my opinion on Rowling hasn’t been exactly high as of late.
Added to that, the entire Johny Depp controversy and the piss poor reaction Rowling gave to that. “He’s perfect for the role” He’s perfect for jail, Jo. Why are you giving him a job?
So I entered the movie theater expecting not the best piece of cinema but the very least a guilty pleasure. I expected to be entertained at least. My intense dislike for the movie wouldn’t really come until after I got home that evening and when everything that happened in the movie settled in my brain. And the really intense dislike I have for this movie didn’t come untill I watched it a second time. And here we are.
Issue 1: Slippery slippery plot
This is probably the main reason why this movie feels so difficult for me to get a firm grasp on:
I still don’t know what the main plot is
“Something is loose in New York and our gang must find out what it is and stop it.” Is my very best guess at this point in time.
This is a very simplified simplified summary, but bear with me.
Graves blaming Newt’s animals is supposed to be a misdirection. We’re supposed to root for Newt catching all his escaped animals
a. before they cause more harm;
and b. because it’s implied that the American Ministery of Magic will shoot to kill.
Along the way it becomes clear that it’s Something Else that’s causing havoc.
Here be the thing, though:d Half of the suspense in this is gone because it’s clear from the very beginning that it couldn’t have been Newt’s animals because we see them escape Newt’s case after we’re shown Graves inspect the first crime scene. So point a is already crossed out.
So all suspense in Newt finding his animals is supposed to come now from Newt getting to them before the Ministery does. But the ministery never comes even near them? And Newt chasing after them is played as a gag?
So then Credence becomes a focus and we know Something Is Up with with him and the cult he’s in. Except the main focus of this plot is how the cult are Witch hunters. So the audience expects that to have some kind of point. But no, it’s just filler.
We’re not given any connections between them and the crimes that have happened. Except for the attack on that one politician dude, that doesn’t have any similarities to any of the previously shown crime scenes.
Nothing has tipped us off yet that Graves isn’t actually Graves. To the audience he’s just a dude doing his job.
And all of the sudden, he’s shown to creepily talk to Credence in a dark alley? We’re just told straight up Graves is Bad. But at least we get a clue that he’s looking for a kid.
So Newt observes that the politician’s death is because of an obscurus. He says it’s obvious from the wound pattern, and the audience has no base of comparison so we just have to take his word for it.
Then we get a Grindelwald name drop but honestly, the name carries no gravity because we don’t know who he is. Followed by an execution scene that just tried too hard to evoke emotions with the audience.
And then it’s off to catch more of Newt’s animals.
Credence kills his fostermom. Graves is being needlessly a dick so the plot has a reason to make Credence lose his shit.
Then it’s the entire ending sequence in which you see a lot but honestly not much happens.
Graves gets arrested.
And then the most baffling thing.
We still have no reason to think Graves is Grindelwald. This entire movie there wasn’t even an offhand comment about possible strange behaviour. There was no clue to make this plottwist believable. If you told me Rowling squeezed in last minute she wanted Grindelwalt to be the villain and they then just added an info dump at the beginning of the movie I would be like probably.
Madam President casts a reveil spell on Graves because reasons. Cue me audibly cursing in the theater because I had forgotten Johny Depp was in this movie.
The Deus ex Atlanta Thunderbird happens and I’m just so done at this point. Because we saw this dang bird like one time during the movie and again with the help of Epic Soundtrack #4, the movie tries to evoke an emotion out of nothing.
Jacob losing his memory was only kind of sad.
I feel like I kind of lost my point, but then again so did the movie.
Issue 2: Okay, but why though?
Springboarding of my previous point I want to ask this:
Was this movie necessary in the overarching plot of the franchise?
I Liked Credence’ plotline enough. I thought the misdirection was done well, since my natural suspicion of small blonde girls. In all actuality, if this had been in a different franchise of the HPU (Harry Potter Universe) and with a decent writer and director with a feel for suspense, I probably would like this plot.
The notion of a magical child supressing their abilities so intensely it turns them into something beyond their control is compelling enough.
But it’s something that needs to be the focus of the movie it’s in. And not a sideplot.
Which is what makes this movie so weird, because I can’t really put my finger on what it wants to focus. It’s called Fantastic Beasts but the magical animals are a humorous secondary plotline, so that can’t be it.
The best I can put this is that it feels like a 2 hour long prelude.
You know, it gives background information you’re going to need in the next movie. Like, did we need Credence’s orphan time in a cult and him being an obscurus (and dying, might I add) to get his plot in the second movie where he’s looking for his parents?
Did we need the entire New York plotline to understand Queenie (whose characterization does a 180 anyway) and Jacob.
Or Tina and Newt’s relationship (which was barely touched on in the first movie and went from 0 to 60 in the second).
Grindelwald in the first and second movie stays basically the same: bad man does explodies, but has no impact on the world but they assure you he has.
In one word I would describe this movie as “Useless”. Five movies were given, one already wasted.
Issue 3: What do you mean, there are people who haven’t read my books?
The movie is written in a way that it expects the audience to know pretty that’s only been really touched on in the books. The audience is expected to already be fans and thus consume this new material blindly and without question. So nothing is explained whatsoever. No better way is this explained than my sister turning to me after the movie ended and saying “Am I supposed to know who that Grindelfuck is?” (She didn’t say Grindelfuck, but I’m funnier than she is so I took artistic liberties).
Honestly? No, you’re not supposed to know who he is before you go into the theater. The movie should however provide you with enough information to tell you so you know who he is after you leave the theater.
Which it didn’t.
The (lack of) exposition reminded me a lot of The Half-Blood Prince movie, to be frank. Now, The Half-Blood Prince is probably my favourite book out of all seven. I love the plotline of Harry being all “don’t worry about it” when he sees all these scribbles in his used potions textbook and it turns out to be some freaky shit (also, it had a lot of Ginny in it, who is probably my favorite character).
In the book it’s kind of this big Thing, and the question “I wonder who this guy was?” is brought up at several times by Hermione and Ron.
The movie kind of… forgets to do that?
It mentions the Half-Blood Prince once, maybe twice, then the whole Dumbledore dying thing happens and after Snape reveals very dramatically that he is the half-blood prince and it’s just soooo lackluster. What? Who? “
Now Li”, you say, “to translate that from written to audiovisual media is extremely tricky. The entire Dumbledore’s trial and dying stuff is just more visually attention grabbing than a subplot about an unknown character.”
And I completely agree: it is an extremely difficult task to make that work. But it’s literally the job of the filmmakers to find a way that does work. The screenwriters for Lord of the Rings weren’t shy with changing the text to make the plot more appropriate for film, and they made an actual legend, so “It’s just not possible” just doesn’t cut it for me
Fantastic Beasts suffers from the same thing. It shows Grindelwald in the beginning in papers, he gets mentionned (I think once by actual name) in passing a few times but never really is the focus of scene.
You don’t feel that he’s doing anything, really, because
a. you’ve already seen that it’s actually a dahk presence; and
b. Graves keeps hammering down on his opinion that it’s Newt’s animals.
Neither of those possibilities are ever explicitly linked to Grindelwalt. Madam President suggests it might be him and Graves immediately goes ‘nah’ and everyone kind of just goes with that.
The fear that Grindelwalt supposedly brings onto the wizarding world is only said, and never really shown, which is why he doesn’t stick around in your mind to leave an impact.
I think the beginning is the only time he gets shown as casu marzu Johny Depp. Once from behind. I think that’s supposed to be a clue that Graves is Grindelwald, because they use the exact same angle when Graves comes on screen the first time (it’s even the same haircut, one white and one black). I thought that was a neat touch, but it only really registers if you’ve already seen the movie before.)
In that same intro, you see his face in the papers and then you don’t see his likeness again for the entire movie until the end when he is Reveiled.
If you read the books (like the movie expects you to), you’ll know who Grindelwalt is from Dumbledore’s backstory. If you haven’t… well there is nothing in this movie that hypes him up to be the major antagonist of this movie.
So his reveil at the end of the movie is supposed to cause an “OMG WHAT A PLOT TWIST” response, but it didn’t because you probably already forgot he was in this, so the time that you should’ve been spending surprised at this mastery of deception, you were trying to remember who he was again.
So it’s storytelling done bad.
And to add to that, it’s Johny Depp, whose looks finally caught up to his personality: washed out and offensive. I audibly cursed in the movie theater because I’d forgotten he was in the movie and thought that, if the movie has to be that bad, at least we have Collin Farrel being a silver fox.
I feel deprived. I feel betrayed and bamboozled.
So, as a non-initiate, you now know: man bad, did explodies + any of the headlines if you were able to read them (because they go by fast, y’all), he’s got fanatics (because Newt said he wasn’t one of them). He wants to expose non magic people to magic people.
And, if I’m fair: this in itself is enough to make up your own opinion.
Which I’m sure people would do if Grindelwald being the threat was, y’know, part of the plot. If he really were the antagonist of this film.
But you get bombarded from all sides with multiple plots that (on the surface) have nothing to do with him and don’t actually give you clues as to what is really going on to puzzle the outcome together before the movie shows you.
Issue 4: Why let the audience have a good time
When the miffler (or the sniffler or whatever the fuck) is in that jewellery store, they show it being there in the display window with Newt in the background and then switch to Newt in the foreground who hasn’t realized yet the thing is pretending to be a jewellery standard. And it’s all played off to be v humorous.
But what are we suppposed to laugh at? Because I feel the humour in that situation would come from the audience noticing the creature alongside Newt and being caught off guard.
Like, I’m (obviously) not a comedian and I have better comedic timing than that.
Then Newt fucking wrecks the entire store to chase the thing and while trying to climb over a closet or a display, it falls over with him on it against the glass of the window, and it starts to slowly crack and they linger on the shot like you’re supposed to be like “ooh hope it doesn’t break!” But like, why would would we care? Why would he care, for that matter? The window is on ground level, and Newt has already broken a window to get into the shop, trashed around and broke nearly every display stand, making as much noise as he possibly could. Why should the audience feel any sense of supsense or amusement at wether or not this window (the last intact glass thing in the store) will break?
What I’m saying is, if you want to write a funny movie, get someone who can write a funny movie and not just slap CGI on predictable and bland gags. Also maybe don’t intersperse it with a plotline that very explicitly tackles physical and mental abuse.
When Graves and Credence talk on screen for the first time and they show you a shot of Credence noticing that Graves is looking at him from across the street in full daylight and visibility before going over, but once they’re in the alley Graves is only filmed in the shadows so you can’t see him.
Way to ruing your own intrigue plot. So you’re immediately just shown that Graves is a bad guy. Imagine that the shot of Graves when Credence notices him is cut out and the next thing you see is Credence talking with a dark figure in an alley. Sprinkle some clues in there that he might be talking to Grindelwald, and you might have something that resembles suspense.
This movie doesn’t trust you to figure out things on your own, except if it’s about the main bad guy and who the fuck he actually is. That’s basic knowledge goddammit!
Finally, I want to talk about the scene munching. Lots of scene munching. Like… so much scene munching.
And just so you can’t say I had only negative things to say about this movie:
It looks good, okay. Some very talented people worked on this movie.
Just not in the writing staff.
It’s just a bit… much. It’s something I notice in a lot of big title movies, and is basically the mentality of “We have this CGI budget and by God we will use every. Single. Penny. Of it.”
Every instance magic is used it gets drawn out to the extreme because “WOW LOOK AT THAT SHIT, ISN’T IT COOL?”
The scene in Newt’s case was cool, but it borderline felt like you were at a gallery gently guided from one art piece to the other to go “ooooh” and “aaah” and “that’s nice” before shuffling on, not really understanding the importance of what your’re looking at.
Does that make sense?
Like, Atlanta Thunder Bird looks nice enough, and Newt throws up the food so it flies up and the music swells up to “generic epic soundtrack #3” and I felt…
I couldn’t give less of a fuck about that damn bird! And it’s supposedly the reason why Newt is even in the US in the first place; to get it back home to Atlanta and then it’ never mentionned again until it was needed at the end of the movie.
It felt very “We’re going to show you this bird so you can’t say we totally pulled the instafix at the end of the movie out of our ass.
(side note: WHY WASN’T GETTING ATLANTA THUNDER BIRD HOME THE PLOT OF THE MOVIE??? I CAN’T TELL YOU HOW MUCH MORE I WOULD’VE LIKED THIS MOVIE IF IT HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE TITLE IT HAS)
I think the reason this movie makes me so heated is because it’s a failed opportunity made under the assumption that people would like it anyway because it’s tied to an already existing and established franchise.
And the mistakes kind of snowball from there.
Rowling assumed people would be interested in Grindelwald, but failed to build him up as a character; she build Graves up as a rather intriguing villain, but snatched the rug from under her audience when it’s actually Grindelwald because it was never properly hinted at; she assumed Credence’s abuse plot would be intriguing, but drowned it in scenes of over the top slapstick humor; she assumed Newt’s creatures would make a lighthearted break inbetween the heavy stuff, but it feels just really dissorienting and kind of like she doesn’t understand the gravity of the abuse; etc.
Who knows, maybe Rowling will pull a George Lucas and co-create an amazing animated series that will go on for several succesfull seasons until it gets bought by Disney and then promptly cancelled, making it’s success that much sweeter. (But also, fuck you, Disney for cancelling Clone Wars).