dir: David Yates
Oh, pointlessness, thy name is an ersatz Harry Potter movie without Harry Potter or any of his cronies. Is Warner Brothers so desperate for money that they have to keep plundering a cupboard laid bare, such that anything with JK Rowling’s name on it can still make them drool Pavlov’s dog style?
Whilst I abhor endless franchises that never seem to end that aren’t called Star Wars or Star Trek or Marvel's or - wait a second I guess I don’t abhor them - one could say that the natural place to let the Harry Potter phenomenon die off was at the end of The Deathly Hallows Part II. A natural end. The perfect place to let it gently fade into the background of the pop cultural ether.
But money needs more money. It gets lonely. It needs new friends, always. It is a gold plated diamond encrusted guarantee that more will come, because Pottermania cannot be allowed to die.
As such I think that this will be the first in probably a new unkillable series, which will function as a prequel to the Potter movies / books, that will be overflowing with not so sly references and Easter eggs for the devoted masses. For me, honestly, I really don’t care. I’ve never read the books and my ten-year-old daughter refuses to even vaguely entertain the prospect of ever reading the books together or watching the flicks.
And I can’t argue with that. Anything else would be child abuse.
I am clearly not an authority on this series. I have watched the movies but my knowledge of it all is cursory, mostly, because for reasons I understand and some I don’t I’m not a big fan. In truth, most of the movies are a nauseous blur, but I watched one of them when I was drunk at the IMAX, and that one was great (Order of the Phoenix). The rest are just fucking annoying.
Mostly, and this is the bit that annoys Potterheads of my acquaintance, I just don’t find it engaging and I can’t stand the writing. When JK Rowling perfectly mocks fuckheads like Piers Morgan or that orange pile of earwax known as a president whose name I refuse to type, on Twitter, I think she’s God’s gift to humanity. When I have to endure works based on her writing output, I have an immediate and strongly negative reflex to either run or break something with my hands.
I went into this thinking, or hoping, that maybe things would be different, but the same ghastly non-storytelling techniques are at play, or the same directorial / editing decisions are at play, and I find myself shaking my head and thinking it’s all a load of bollocks.
So, for maybe a few of its opening minutes I watched this thinking “Corr, this is way better than most of those Potter flicks”, but then by about the tenth minute I was like “Nuh, this is even worse than I could have possibly imagined.”
I don’t know what the character of Newt Scamander is like on the page, I’d have to assume he’s not that different from the portrayal a young Stephen Hawking puts on display here, but as a character he manages to be both irritating and hard to watch. I don’t know if Eddie Redmayne suffered some permanent damage from his Oscar winning role in The Theory of Everything, or maybe there are some chemicals in the Oscar itself leaching into his skin whenever he strokes his statue daily, but the character he plays here… fucking hell he’s facepunch-worthy. I get that he’s ‘not good with humans’ and all that bullshit, because, let’s face it, doesn’t every character in everything basically adhere to that archetype? And that his real interest lies in the fantastical animals that he adores so much.
But I don’t care about them.
I had high hopes for the setting, too, seeing as I’m a sucker for Art Deco era New York, all here realised with copious CGI intended to generate a 1920s metropolis of speakeasies and Prohibition era glamour. Alas, there is a dullness to how it’s visually represented, a depressed colour palate signifying I don’t know what, which makes some scenes pop when the colour amps up (at certain jewellery stores and venues), but mostly made me and little baby Jesus cry.
The animals themselves, considering the title, aren’t really the focus of the story. I mean, they are plot devices in the story, but really there’s some seemingly convoluted story about some evil wizard who killed lots of people but doesn’t appear in the story until way too late (or does he?), an anti-witch group of people modelled on the Temperance League / Puritanical types who want to burn people at the stake again and give people bad haircuts, and the American version of the Ministry of Magic that is basically the FBI with wands. And they’re dull and conservatively dressed but they’re led by Josephine Baker, sorry, I mean Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo). Plus, Seraphina Picquery is totally not a rip off of the witch queen character Serafina Pekkala from the Phillip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy, is she, because it’s not like Rowling would ever be that lazy, would she?
Newt’s time in New York is a non-stop cavalcade of fun and a roller coaster ride of cinematic riches and high energy hi jinks. Or, otherwise, it’s a dull traipse through ‘new’ but painfully familiar scenarios that have the same out of nowhere deus ex machina resolutions and inconsistent or even non-existent characterisations that make it impossible to care about what people do or why they do it.
Yes, it is funny to hear Scamander defending his alma mater of Hogwarts against the American equivalent, because it’s always funny to hear posh toffee types snobbishly looking down their noses at their brash, uncouth American ‘country cousins’, but you can’t argue that kind of thing isn’t lazy and yes I realise that’s a double negative but no matter. It’s funny to watch Americans treat this Brit like he’s an alien, and I don’t mean an illegal alien, in which case they would be trying to build a wall all over him, but the incredulity with which they greet his every awkward pronouncement is hilarious, and I’m not sure it’s in a good way.
Maybe it’s the strangely affected delivery, or the (maybe) speech impediment that he’s manifesting, in which case, honestly, those unenlightened jerks and their shameful mockery of the differently abled! Really, I couldn’t figure out what was going on with his voice. Maybe the character is on the spectrum, I dunno, but there’s something strongly implied about how deficient he is in some areas, possibly to do with a broken heart or a cleft palate or something…
There’s an A plot, which is Newt either trying to find or trying to lose the animals in his care, and there’s a B plot about some massive magical creature or force that’s wreaking havoc across the city and threatens to rend the veil that separates the ignorant world of the people possessing no magical abilities (prosaically referred to as ‘No Majs’, as opposed to the snootier ‘muggles’ term from that other book series) and those that lord it over the rest of them unseen in the murky magical shadows. Then there’s a C plot about the machinations of the anti-witch people and their awful ways, including a child abusing foster mother played terrifyingly by Samantha Morton, and a D plot about some senior and clearly evil chap in the Magical FBI (Colin Farrell) who disturbingly seems to be fixated on one of the abusive foster mother’s children called Credence (again creepily played by Ezra Miller, who really has to stop playing these kinds of roles).
And maybe there’s an E plot about whether this particular Polish guy is ever going to get to open his bakery. He’s working in a factory, and dying a little each day, like anyone with a mundane job, but he has dreams, y’all. WHEN OH WHEN WILL HE GET TO OPEN HIS BAKERY?
Honestly, the thing I’m not getting across strongly enough is just how godawfully boring most of this tedious affair is. I really can’t do it justice with words and sarcastic phrases. It’s terribly written, terribly paced and often feels quite embarrassing to watch, to the point where I sometimes felt sorry for the actors.
Let’s face it: we should never have to feel bad for the actors in these $100 million plus movies. They get paid a fortune to prance about in front of green screens for about a month and no matter how shitty the character or the performance, they make in that month what it takes me a decade to earn. If anything they should feel sorry for me, quizzically shaking my head in the audience, wondering why they all bothered in the first place.
If this is the first in a new series, goddamnit I will not be made to care about this ever. Avoid with extreme prejudice.
4 times tell me where the Fantastic Beasts are and I assure you I will do everything in my power to avoid them.
“We're going to recapture my creatures before they get hurt. They're currently in alien terrain surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet; humans.” – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them