Let's talk about Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. What this movie gets right, where it trips up and how it sets up its four sequels all come together to form a reintroduction to #JKRowling's magical universe, which is at turns charming and frustrating, well-intentioned and overly ambitious.
#FantasticBeasts may better than every superhero movie of what's been a disappointing year, but it's arguably more flawed than any #HarryPotter adventure. Let's break down the magical moments and pesky problems which define Fantastic Beasts.
Magic: The Visuals
When director David Yates took the reins of the Harry Potter movies, beginning with Order Of The Phoenix, the franchise found a visual rhythm centered around incredible usage of CGI. Its color palette was basically reduced to blues, greys and black, which suited the darker tone of those movies but did start to feel a little color-starved toward the end.
Yates brings his superb eye for CGI to Beasts, but goes easier on the moody Instagram filters to craft a movie which pops with color at all the right times. Seeing the Thunderbird come to life in the golden desert landscape inside Newt's suitcase, for instance, is a moment of pure joy. New York City of 1926 creates a retro backdrop which adds flavor at moments when the story itself begins to waver. The difference those retro visuals make, in contrast with the bland metropolis of Suicide Squad or the airport shenanigans of Civil War, is hard to overstate.
Misfire: The Tone
J.K. Rowling's script is quite ambitious thematically, but tonally it's uneven. The first third of Beasts falls a little flat, and some moments that were intended to be comedic just don't come off. The middle, kicking off with Newt and Jacob's adventure inside the case, is glorious, the closest the movie comes to recreating the tone of the Harry Potter films.
By the time the film's denouement arrives, though, it feels unclear exactly what the script was working towards. We spent most of those two hours exploring the relationship between magical creatures and wizards, or between wizards and no-majs, and suddenly the film becomes a CGI duststorm as Credence's Obscurus rips through NYC causing chaos. The Grindelwald reveal goes down like a damp squib, if you'll excuse the pun.
Essentially, Rowling's up-and-down script never quite finds its legs, which is perhaps not surprising given that it's her first try. And yet...
Magic: Queenie & Jacob
The final scenes of the film are pure Harry Potter, particularly the ones in which we see Jacob finally achieve his dream of opening the bakery, selling bread shaped like the Niffler and the Erumpent. For a moment, it was like being back in Hogsmeade on a weekend, which is just the kind of warm feeling Rowling is so good at conjuring.
For my money, Queenie and Jacob were hands-down the best thing about Fantastic Beasts. Together, Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler whipped up enough chemistry that I'd be quite happy if they got their own rom-com. The confirmation that both will be back in some way for the sequel might slightly undermine the necessity of Jacob's memory being obliviated, but hey, I'll take it anyway.
Misfire: Plot Holes
I'd rather not bang on about plot holes because every blockbuster has them, but a couple in Fantastic Beasts suggest a couple more script revisions were necessary. How, for instance, are Jacob and Newt inside the case which Tina opens at the emergency MACUSA hearing, when in the previous scene she'd been watching them from a distance at the zoo in Central Park? How did she even know they were there?
Why did Newt perform the revelio curse on Graves, revealing Grindelwald? Although Graves had been acting a little shady throughout, even his colleagues at Congress didn't guess he was an intruder pulling a polyjuice, and presumably they've known him for years. On another note, MACUSA apparently demands that wizards and witches have no contact with no-majs (which must wildly limit the people they can actually speak to) — but wouldn't that rule actively make no-majs suspicious? And would it not make the wizarding community of NYC pretty miserable?
Perhaps most glaringly, what happens to the plot with Jon Voight's newspaper editor, Henry Shaw Sr.? We last see him vowing vengeance for his son's death, and that's it. The hints that his other son, Langdon, believes in the existence of magic also come to nothing. Neither of these characters impacts the plot in any way. Again, Rowling's world-building is superb, but the script perhaps needed a guiding hand.
Magic: The Potterverse
Still, it's an absolute pleasure to find ourselves back inside the Potterverse, and little moments like Queenie extolling the virtues of Ilvermorny as "only the best wizarding school in the whole world!" feel instantly familiar — it's easy to imagine that every young wizard or witch, whether at Hogwarts, Ilvermorny, Durmstrang or elsewhere earnestly believes their school is the greatest of all.
And the actual application of magic and spells (which is arguably something we didn't see enough of in Beasts) is always a joy to behold. Watching Queenie prepare a strudel, the ingredients suspended in mid-air, wrapping themselves into one neat, mouthwatering package, was the best reminder that magic will never not be cool.
As I mentioned above, Grindelwald is not integrated into Beasts in a way that justifies the big Johnny Depp reveal, which left me pretty cold. It might have helped to learn a little more about Grindelwald's motives for going to America (he can't have known he'd find an Obscurus there, and neither would he need one, his own command of magic being powerful enough) or how, when and why he took on Graves's identity. Even his reaction to having his true face revealed was weirdly blasé.
Sure, I'm stoked to see how Rowling builds up to the great duel of 1945 with Dumbledore in the next movie and beyond, but right now my interest in the dark wizard himself is minimal, and I don't honestly know if I can stomach the sight of Johnny Depp in such a crucial role for four whole movies.
Magic: The Fantastic Beasts
At its core, though, Fantastic Beasts is a movie about magical creatures, and on that level not only does it not disappoint, it actually surpasses every expectation. Yates, the script and the CGI team all do amazing work in giving Newt's beasts their own, unique personalities, so that when Newt negotiates a deal to give away his clingy, sheltered Bowtruckle, Pickett, to the goblin gangster Gnarlack, my heart took a bruising in a way I never imagined it would for what is essentially a stick insect. Damn, J.K., you're killing me!
Of course, the Niffler deserves a mention too, his attempt at the Mannequin Challenge in a jewelry store giving us Beasts's biggest laughs, not to mention the Erumpent, the Thunderbird or the other creatures who light up this movie.
What did you love best about Fantastic Beasts, and what didn't you enjoy?