PG-13. Okay, sure. Why not?
DIRECTOR: David Yates
So this is what it feels like! This is the curse of the passionate nerd. (AKA Harry Potter and the Curse of the Passionate Nerd.) I have now seen both sides of the puzzle and I totally sympathize now. As a passionate nerd, I often try forcing my fandoms on other people. I do this all the time. I now feel bad for my wife and the fact that she regularly is the target of many of my nerd rages. I've tried getting so many people addicted to Doctor Who that my wife has referred to me as the John the Baptist of that show. I regularly try getting my wife into comics and I'm the guy who whispers about Easter eggs in Marvel movies. By the bye, I'm sorry about that. I just get really excited. The thing is...I never got into Harry Potter. It's not like I've avoided Harry Potter. I've read all of the main books and I've seen all of the movies once. I gave it its fair shake. It just never took hold of me. Considering that Harry Potter fans are really giving Star Wars fans a run for their money, for once I'm on the outside of a nerd culture looking in and not quite getting it. Maybe that's so Ravenclaw of me, but I will never get Hufflepuff memes. I need to establish this clearly: I love Harry Potter fans and the fandom. I just don't like Harry Potter. Continue liking what you like. You are one of the nicer fandoms out there.
As such, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a bit of a burden on me. It looked so cool. Setting it in F. Scott Fitzgerald's America and then having wizards and stuff show up? My goodness, I thought I was going to be a convert. But this movie had the problem of being too inside baseball. This movie was a movie for the nerds. And everyone's a nerd about this stuff, so I guess I really don't get it. But there were so many references to stuff I didn't get. Like, these were references inside of references. This movie was for people who read the footnotes and cross-reference stuff. I suppose I have to go into spoilers. The big reveal at the end about Colin Farrell's character. There was a moment where -I swear-David Yates put in a pause for the collective audience of Harry Potter to gasp and all I could think was, "Who's that guy?" Yeah, they dropped his name a few times in the movie, but it all seemed like typical villain setup. Nothing that blew my mind when they revealed who was really behind everything. I Wiki'd that character once the movie was over (Thanks, thorough Harry Potter nerds for your attention to detail) and, sure enough, he has been teased throughout the series. I read up on him and his character has gotten shout outs in multiple books and films. I didn't know this! It's like Thanos in all of the Marvel movies. I know who Thanos is! He's a big deal! So is Johnny Depp, apparently. (Okay, I know that the real Johnny Depp is a big deal. He made Australia mad one time or something.)
This might also be one of those plots that doesn't make a lick of sense. Stuff was happening and there is a ton of happenstance. I will give Rowling props when it came to creating Voldemort. Voldemort was a proper baddie. He had a very clear motivation and a straightforward agenda. Get borned and kill all the good wizards. Pretty standard bad guy fare. I have no idea what Grindelwald really wants. Is he Magneto? I feel like he's Magneto. But I don't see how what he does really Magnetos folks. Perhaps that's what happens when a movie tries overcomplicating the plot. On paper, it is brilliant. No one really sees it coming and it is treating its audience with respect. But when a plot becomes too overcomplicated --and this has happened in the franchise before with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire --it becomes completely unbelievable. Fantastic Beasts has the problem with A) No one could have foreseen the events of the plot playing out the way they did and B) any moment in the plot could have undone the events of the bad guy's plot. Keep in mind, I don't really get all the Harry Potter rules, but the storytelling is just super clunky. A lot of blockbuster films have these problems because the plot needs to be padded out. As part of that, Newt Scamander has only a remote interest in the main plot, which makes it a little hard to ignore the coincidences that constantly rope him back into the main conflict. Yes, it makes the character innocent and morally pure, but the odds that this character stopped this very intense plot to Magneto folks kind of silly.
I'm not sure what I feel about the preachiness in this movie. I really liked Ezra Miller's portrayal of Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood, but the allegory was way too overt for my liking. I like the idea that this world exists in the Harry Potter universe. Religious zealots would be a thing and they might even be louder than in our actual reality. I know from people constantly snapshotting J.K. Rowling's Twitter account that she's quite the champion of the progressive one-liner. I actually like quite a bit of what she writes, but there doesn't seem to be any moral gray area for her. She feels what she's doing is right and everyone else seems very portrayed as heartless psychopaths. That's where I have a problem with her characters who are portrayed as religious. She makes the head of the household so incredibly evil and unforgiving that I can't help but roll my eyes. As much as I like Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor because he's fun, I really applaud Clancy Brown's Lex Luthor because he feels morally justified in many of the things he does for good reason. I like the villains who have seen a moral gray area and are trying their best to deal with it versus "I'm wholly unlikable the entire time." The concept there is very cool. The execution makes the bad guys a little cartoony.
David Yates, during the height of Steven Moffat's reign over Doctor Who, announced that he was going to make a Doctor Who film. Steven Moffat said "Not on my watch," and the issue fizzled away. Yates clearly was influenced by Doctor Who because Newt Scamander / Eddie Redmayne is overly knocking off the Eleventh Doctor / Matt Smith. I love the idea behind Newt Scamander. He's passionate about seeing new things that are wonderful beyond the imagination. He has a means of transportation that is bigger on the inside filled with wonders, yet he has this sadness behind the eyes. Even the outfit and hair scream Matt Smith and I kind of wonder what's up with that. I stand by it, Newt is a cool cat. But there is something cheap about the whole thing. Redmayne plays the part brilliantly, but I don't see that much fleshed out in the character. He is joyful and sad, but I don't know why he's sad. I don't want to chalk it up to supernatural environmentalism, because I'm not the biggest Ferngully fan. It is the first movie and there's probably going to be some character development with him, but I didn't understand many of the choices that were going on. I do love his companion, though. Tying a muggle / No-Mag to the story of wizards gives me something to relate to. He's probably the funniest part of the movie, which weirdly needs a bit of comic relief despite the subject matter. Jacob Kowalski had just the right level of fun innocence in this world of the bizarre to make the story really worth watching. I was more tied to his tertiary plotline than I was for the actual Harry Potter world. I wanted him to get his bakery. I wanted him to explore the bizarre and see more things that would blow his mind. That stuff was super fun. They have to bring him back, right? Like, they have to. Geez, look at me already planning to see the sequel to a movie I didn't even like that much.
I'm glad this movie exists. I really want this movie to be successful and I want people to get behind it. I just don't really love Harry Potter, so I'm not going to love the spin-off. It's not the worst in the franchise, but it is also far from the best. But I do love me a good Jazz Age New York.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.