Monday, November 21, 2016

Fantastic Beasts

and Where to Find Them. But wow, that title is too long.

Short version: This was a fantastic return to the Potterverse. While it may not be a top-shelf movie in general, it easily sits in the upper tier of Potter movies, and I look forward to watching it on ABC Family FreeForm for years to come.

I'll assume that everyone reading this has seen the trailers. Probably more trailers than I have, as I deliberately choose not to go seeking out "special looks" or foreign trailers. I had a few movies really spoiled that way, and prefer to go in fresh.

As such, one of the things that really surprised me was that what should be the main plot of the movie was never even shown in the trailers. Scamander's beasts escaping, wreaking a little havoc, and eventually being contained again is, honestly, the B plot. Which gets a little odd, because it takes up more screen time than the A plot. Fortunately the A plot is straightforward enough that it doesn't suffer for sneaking in around the edges.

The characters are a bit weak and sketchy, with the exception of the no-maj (aka muggle) Jacob Kowalski. But, honestly, so are most of the characters in the rest of the Potter movies. It is only when we breathe the details of the books into them that they become really interesting. Or, in some cases, when we have eight movies to really get to know them. But there are enough hooks around each character that I really wish there was a full novelization that I could read. I feel like there was a lot more to Tina in particular that just never got expressed. Newt himself was also interesting, in that he clearly used his self-effacing bumbling as a mask to cover a very intelligent and capable man.

The effects were wonderfully done, if a bit repetitive by this point. By maintaining a solid consistency with the rest of the movies, there wasn't a lot of new, exciting stuff. Except for the beasts themselves, of course. Those were a bit all over the place. Which, I suppose, fits their nature. Some were cutesy, some were just weird, and some tried a bit too hard to be fantastic. The two that I thought really nailed it were the bowtruckle and the thunderbird (though it's probably not actually called a thunderbird). They showed both magic and real emotion in a way that felt authentic.

I will say that I was deeply pleased with how the beasts were handled from a plot viewpoint. They were useful often enough that it made sense to have them in the title, but were not constant solutions-in-a-box. Only once did a beast really serve as a deus-ex-machina, and that was enough.

While this movie will not be held up as a feminist triumph, it passed the bar well enough, I think. It passed the Bechdel Test through a few different conversations (though, interestingly, Tina and Queenie had very few conversations between themselves). There was a clear expectation of gender equality in the wizarding world, which was nice as the no-maj America was very much struggling with equality at this time. I feel like too much of Tina's story got edited away, which was a shame. Queenie's story, though, was really interesting. Yes, she was a bubble-headed blonde, and there primarily as a romantic interest. But that didn't stop her from being layered, observant, sympathetic, and active. I really hope she returns for the future movies.

Should you rush out and see it? Well, that depends. If you are a Potter-phile, then yes. If you enjoy a good yarn threaded through impressive effects, then yes. If you are looking for a morally grey tale with complex characters that are driven by their demons, then you probably should go see Allied instead. This movie is for people who just like their entertainment to be fun.

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