12 year old son wanted to see this before it left the theaters, so off we traipsed to the theater after an afternoon spent planting the second of our two cute little avocado trees.
For the first hour of this flick, I was frankly bored out of my skull. The best that can be said is: the special effects are exactly what we’ve come to expect from
years of government training high-budget hollywood sequels. Newt Scamander was – well cast? Quirky? The protagonist? Funny-looking English dude? The magical animals were – cute-ish? Destructive in a way that would get them grimly shot by wizard or muggle alike? Generally immune to the ubiquitous magic in ways that were never even hinted at?
This last point bears expanding. The magic in Harry Potter-verse has always had an arbitrary nature that was, in the original books and movies, (1) masked somewhat by its use as comic relief. As Roger Rabbit answers Eddie when asked if he could always have slipped out of the handcuffs: no, only when it’s funny. Thus, magic things and spells have funny names and do funny things, most of the time. It breaks down when taken seriously – we never really know why dueling goes the way it does, why wizards don’t just, say, liquify the earth beneath their opponents or drop a house on them or whatever – no, it’s always some lame-ish spells introduced earlier except when it isn’t.
But we look past it because it’s fun and we care about the people. In Fantastic Beasts, Newt unleashes some Grade-A magic to break into a bank and zip through walls and repair destroyed buildings – but can’t do anything to stop a kleptomaniacal platypus from wreaking havoc – until, suddenly, he can. Lame. Distracting. BOOOOORING.
So I got up, used the men’s room, checked my email and blog stats, took a deep breath, and went back in. I came back just in time for Newt and Tina to be condemned to death by the extraordinarily good-looking bad guy Percival (yeah, he was the bad guy from the get go). Something interesting probably happened in there that I missed.
The second hour was much better, rising to the level of distracting enough fluff. What saved it from total disaster was the ensemble good guys: The odd-looking Newt, the semi-prim and often worried-looking former Auror Tina, her flapper babe with a heart of gold mind-reading sister Queenie, and, most of all, Jacob, the token Muggle (No-Maj? Huh? LAAAME!) who gets caught up in the adventure and proves, like the handsome driver in The Magician’s Nephew, to be stalwart, kind and game. To paraphrase Mathesar, their courage, teamwork, friendship through adversity saves us.
Except – not quite. You see, the immediate bad guys are two, who in a way need each other and want the same thing: war between wizards and muggles. Percival/Grimwald (Spoiler Al… ah, forget it.) on the one hand, and Mary Lou Barebone, an evil, evil Calvinist witch hunter and child abuser because Christianity (however thinly veiled) and child abuse go together like
social justice fanaticism and projecting bread and butter. She wants the mundane world to seek out and destroy witches. Christianity and its condemnation of witchcraft must be Eeeevil because look how nice – and misunderstood! Never forget misunderstood – the real witches are, kindly destroying and rebuilding our building and manipulating our minds to their advantage. Or something. Newt is a nice guy, after the manner of somebody who’d carry the equivalent of glass vials of anthrax through a crowded city because magical creatures/deadly airborne pathogens are – here’s that word again! – misunderstood.
Anyway, the danced-around issue of *why* Puritans (and the Spanish Inquisition, etc.) had it in for witches is conclusively proved to be bigotry and hatred because witches – well, some witches – are just like you and me! Witch hunts are bad, and, historically, driven by envy and revenge more often than not, but the disgust and horror with which witches were historically viewed might – might! – have *some* more rational, less hysterical basis, just maybe?
Nope. Witches, like sparkly vampires, are just Misunderstood, and Christians are the real bad guys.
The not-at-all-Puritan named Credence, a young man adopted and raised by the sadistic Mary Lou, snaps and unleashes his pent-up and suppressed witchy superpowers and all but destroys New York, until Love gets him to calm down enough for the Witch FBI to kill him. Huh. And then one of Newt’s super-cool magical creature, using a conveniently-mentioned-earlier-in-the-story magical creature extract, Obliviates the entire population of New York while remarkably well-dressed Magical Untouchables rebuild the city (a city in which hundreds of building get destroyed without, one assumes, killing anybody – unless there’s a Resurectiones spell, or something, off camera). So, it’s all good! (2)
Boys and girls, don’t go suppressing Who You Really Are, or you might end up destroying a major metropolis. Anyone who tells you otherwise is Eeeeevil!
The denouement involves a Stupid Rule: no fraternizing with the muggles! which means Queenie, who has fallen for Jacob, has to let him go, in the sense of letting him have his mind obliviated of any memory of her and the magical world. And Jacob, swell guy that he is, just accepts that. No mind-rape there! Newt, the limey bloke in whose country such fraternization is permitted, never mentions the possibility of the lovebirds moving to the Old Country and living happily ever after. Huh.
The chemistry between the 4 main characters was touching. But, ultimately not enough.
- I’ve only read about the first 3 books, heard snatches of the remaining books as read out loud to the kids, and seen maybe 3-4 of the movies. So if the magic system gets explained in a satisfactory manner somewhere I missed – so sorry. I don’t care.
- That Obliviate spell would come in real handy for a wizard who might, say, date hot Muggle women… Nah, that would never occur to anyone!