REVIEW: FANTASTIC BEASTS
All comments welcome; and, welcome as additions to the site:
Unless otherwise stated,
all content © A.E.M. Baumann
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
director: David Yates
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
director: David Yates
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore
director: David Yates
– Feb. 25, 2023
first posted to Adversaria Jan. 25, 2022
Comments on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
So, in general, they were fun films what I watched on HBO Max. The first one seemed to ebb and flow in tempo for me, and the second one has a lot of exposition. But they are enjoyable for what they are. The main character Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is quite entertaining in his varieties and very likeable, and in the second film Jude Law makes for an excellent younger Dumbledore. Most interstingly is to notice how the creatures in Fantastic Beasts look like fantastic beasts, while, in comparison, the creatures in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings looked like Pokemon. Which, I think speaks more about Marvel, but it does absolutely speak.
But I want to focus on two elements, one in each film. First, in Fantastic Beasts, I want to point to the end, to the wizards walking around New York fixing all the damage done to the buildings and structures while the people stand around 'obliviated' — their memories of the events removed. Never mind the morality of such an act, let us just look at the damage being undone. And in the final sequences a massive amount of damage was done. But whippity-snick, a wave of the wand and all the bricks are back in place. (To note, it is a surreptitiously dropped issue how the wizarding world in the U.S. is portrayed as being cruel and oppressive, but without commentary, not even by a more enlightened European culture. Perhaps Rowling only dared go so far.)
But what about the many, many . . . . many people that assuredly were injured or killed in that wrecking of the city? One of my favorite elements of Batman vs. Superman is how it acknowledges that thousands of people died in the battle between Superman and General Zod. Indeed, the whole of the enmity Bruce Wayne holds for Superman is centered on those deaths and how Superman failed to make efforts to minimize those deaths. Massive destruction is rather de rigueur in action movies these days (much to their creative diminishment), and perhaps they at least indirectly acknowledge the damage to and loss of life. But in a film like Fantastic Beasts, such loss is not even winked at. As far as that film is concerned, there needed only be a little potionage and some wand waving and everything is right as rain. But the whole of it rings rather problematic to me. Indeed, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps there is something of the Pokemon in Fantastic Beasts after all.
The Crimes of Grindelwald has a related but differing problem. Much of the central event — the meeting among Grindelwald's followers — centers on him looking into the future and seeing — and showing — the upcoming second world war. (If I remember right the film occurs in 1926.) The whole of the wizarding world movies and books rests under a conceit that wizards and the magical world have always existed, co-existed with unmagical humans, if it can be called "co-existing" as that wizarding world is mostly hidden from humans. Perhaps not as rigorously in Europe as in the U.S., but nonetheless it is a world next to but not part of the non-magical world. Which is a very tenuous conceit, and care must be taken not to even accidentally lift the curtain of the suspension of disbelief.
Which Grindelwald does, in that prophetic showing of the coming war, including the extermination of the Jews and the nuking of Japan. Unfortunately, that leaves a rather problematic question: where was the wizarding world when the Nazis were murdering six million Jews, not to mention all the others they killed? Oops. Curtain lifted, and the world of the stories falls apart. Grindelwald's playing on the fears of a coming second world war is, actually, a huge error in plot construction, as it rather points an accusatory finger at the whole of the wizarding world: Where were you? Hiding? Keeping your secrecy? Yes, this is a moral problem for the story, but see it also as a writing problem: the story pointed to something the story absolutely should have never pointed to, because once it did, the story fell apart. It should have stayed in the safety of 1926. (Indeed, the whole argument presented by Grindelwald is problematic in its delivery — which is to say the writing was sloppy, illogical, pushed, all most likely sacrificed to speed. That's another issue, but one worth examining if you watch the film again. That was not Marc Antony in Julius Caesar.)
So, two films, two related problems. Both of which rather spoiled the films for me. Endings, as I am wont to say, are difficult, and if you do not pull it off, the film/story can be ruined for a thinking viewer/reader. Both these films so suffered.
Update, Feb. 25 2023: I did see the third film when it came to HBOMax, and it's a complete mess. It entirely forgets that Newt Scamander is the center of the story, makes little to no sense, is very heavy handed in its moralizing, and has a ludicrous ending. A ludicrous second half. A ludricrous all of it, when it comes to it. It is amazing how utterly the series lost its grounding in everything that made the first movie enjoyable. But, then, trains don't look the mess before the wreck.