When I left work on Monday, I wasn’t expecting to go out to a movie, though given that I’ve got a couple of sick (for varying definitions of sick) teenagers, and a bouncing nine-year old who was bothering them, after knocking out out a one-take bass line for a related demo track* for the Humdingers, the spouse and I took the youngest out for a couple of hours so they could rest.
We caught a matinee of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them in a mostly empty theater (which, once you’ve experienced it, you’ll realize is the best way to see a movie). I wasn’t expecting much going in, honestly, but I found I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, though found a couple of things frustrating, given the meta knowledge I have of the franchise.
I expect I’ll get spoilery here, so if you’re going to bail, bail now….
Anyway – the story itself, with Newt Scamander wandering around NYC collecting his escaped beasts with the help of a couple of american wizards and a
muggle no-maj aspiring pastry chef, was engaging and enjoyable (especially our baker Jacob taking in the spectacle of the wizard world and falling in love), but kind of suffered by being secondary to the larger story that’s getting laid out here and will quite likely be belabored across five movies, which is pretty clearly going to be the rise of evil wizard Grindelwald parallelling muggle WWII, as hinted at in the later Harry Potter novels.
I guess I can understand the need to ease people into things, especially folks who’ve only seen the Potter films, which leave most of this ancillary historical worldbuilding out. That said, while the movie delivers the promised titular Beasts, it lays the foundation (occasionally awkwardly) for a much darker story of political corruption and wizard fascism; the introduced and dropped plotlines (particularly Jon Voight’s newspaper publisher and rival sons) were kind of ham-handed, but you know they’ll come up later when this franchise takes its turn away from the rather innocuous “Fantastic Beasts” title into dark urban historical fantasy and fascist allegory.
So much for 2 Fantastic 2 Beasts and Fantastic Beasts 3: Tokyo Drift…
That said, I kind of dig that that’s the story they’re going to try to tell – it’s a logical progression for Rowling, who’s gotten to be a much better writer since the Potter books wrapped, taking on darker non-fantasy stories with the Cormoran Strike mysteries (which I love). That she’s writing these herself lets her stretch her muscles in that area while still giving the Potter fans more to chew on; I just hope she’s up to the task – screenwriting is a different animal than writing novels, and the wizarding world she’s laid out so far hasn’t stood up to much scrutiny once one scratches the surface.
We shall see. The one thing that bugged me, however, and this is the big spoiler….we got some Grindelwald in this one, and he’s played by a slick, dark, and competent Colin Farrell…who then turns into Johnny Depp, once again doing his acting like a cartoon through a bad wig thing. If we’re going the route I think they’re going, the suave “Mr. Graves” persona is the one who’s going to seduce a world into lining up behind his schemes, not fat albino Johnny Depp with a weird moustache (Young Dumbledore certainly wouldn’t be seduced by the latter, if that’s still canon). That’s a missed opportunity.
Still, we got Ron Perlman as a goblin running a prohibition-era speakeasy, which makes up for a lot.
* – “The Erumpent Tango”, coming soon to a nerd music venue near you!