The Seven Biggest Problems of “Fantastic Beasts”
Our honeymoon couldn’t last forever! Though I enjoyed the film of Fantastic Beasts, it was very far from perfect. It was a good time – cool effects, likable characters, and everything that makes for a good movie. After seeing it twice and reading through the script, and then sitting on it for two weeks, I give it a solid B, with the caveat of it being raised or lowered retroactively based on the payoff in future films. But I expect my wizarding world stories all to be A+ in quality, so here are my seven biggest nitpicks with the movie.
#7: American Wizarding Society
This is a complaint left over from Pottermore, but Jo’s version of American wizarding society leaves a lot to be desired. I’m still most displeased about the word “No-Maj,” and having it spoken aloud did not help. And in what I interpreted as a dig at us, the British Ministry uses paper airplanes to pass memos, while MACUSA uses origami rats. Rats – how flattering.
In Scene 41, Tina says, “[Newt ha]s committed a serious infraction of the National Statute of Secrecy.” This is the first time we ever hear of a national statute; we’ve only ever heard of an international one. What gives? Either America has its own Statute of Secrecy (plausible, but needs much further explanation), or this is a mistake on Rowling’s part.
It doesn’t help that the president of MACUSA is the most grating character to emerge from the wizarding world in quite some time. I was already not her biggest fan for her treatment of Tina – “We’re busy, go away!” followed a day later by “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” But her worst moment was Scene 59 when meeting with the ICW. When told off for threatening to expose the wizarding world, she fires back, “I will not be lectured by the man who let Gellert Grindelwald slip through his fingers—” What does one have to do with the other? That’s the kind of pivoting right at home at a presidential debate these days (unfortunately), but Picquery is addressing foreign diplomats here.
#6: The Half-Baked Credence Storyline
Random glimpses of Mary Lou’s children were not informative, and unfortunately, they were mostly seen through David Yates’s typical “so dark you can barely see” filter. This is encapsulated in the failure of Scene 86, where Mary Lou finds the wand, and I neither knew nor cared what was going on. According to the script, it was a toy wand, which was not conveyed in the film. What’s up with the kid having a toy wand? Nothing about that makes sense.
#5: Forgetting to Use Magic
It doesn’t occur to Newt to use the Summoning Charm on the Niffler in the entire first half of the film, the way he does in Scene 50. We get that it takes the fun out of all the physical comedy of chasing down a Niffler, but there’s no in-universe reason not to Summon the Niffler. And that’s far from the worst of it.
The insect in the teapot thing – Scene 91 – was as repulsive as it was stupid. Aside from the fact that I could do without enormous close-ups of a cockroach on a big screen, why does it not occur to any of the three wizards present to use magic? “Accio cockroach,” problem solved.
And that’s my general complaint about Newt and company’s hunt for the beasts – they never seem to remember that they’re wizards and can use magic. Especially given that they’re adults and have spent more than half their lives using magic for everything (as all adult wizards in the Potter series do), why are they as hapless as first-year Hermione crying, “But there’s no wood!”
#4: Plot Holes
At the end of Scene 54, Newt and Jacob hop into the suitcase… leaving it lying randomly on a frozen lake in Central Park until Tina picks it up. What exactly was the intent here? If it was to hang out in the suitcase, wouldn’t Newt at least have hidden it behind a tree or something? Either Newt is being written as a complete idiot (see Point #5), or this is sloppy writing.
#3: Deus Ex Machina
I’m referring to the deus ex machina at the end (Scenes 117-120), where a Thunderbird can use Swooping Evil venom to rain down memory charms. This is so… tacky. It’s an awfully convenient solution that comes out of nowhere to fix everything. I could barely see all the spectacular effects, I was rolling my eyes so hard. It’s also completely unexplained. How did it already make it into the drinking water, presumably affecting the people inside? Why doesn’t it affect any of the wizards? Where is Dumbledore to explain arcane magic to us?
#2: The Revelio Charm
Newt uses the Revelio Charm to unmask Grindelwald in Scene 116 – what is going on here? It means Grindelwald can’t be using Polyjuice because in the HP series everyone just has to wait it out for Polyjuice to wear off (thinking specifically of Dumbledore waiting for Moody to turn into Crouch, Jr.). David Heyman said in an interview that it was Polyjuice, but I’m hoping Jo retcons that, so I am not taking it as gospel until she says so.
Giving the benefit of the doubt, if not Polyjuice, what is Grindelwald using? Human Transfiguration? Something else? If it’s some impressive magic that only someone on Grindelwald’s level can use, then a wizard school dropout like Newt shouldn’t be able to undo it with a simple spell. And if the Revelio Charm is a catch-all for undoing magical deception, like the Thief’s Downfall, why is it never used in the HP books, especially by Dumbledore? It would’ve come in handy. Jo is going to have to do a lot of explaining to convince me of the legitimacy of this moment.
Of course, the moment Grindelwald is unmasked is awful for another reason: Johnny Depp. Everything about his two seconds on screen was terrible and made doubly so because we had just spent two hours watching the perfect Grindelwald… as played by Colin Farrell. Nope, this fan’s not getting over it.
#1: The Death Chamber
The worst part of the film, by a mile, is the part where Newt and Tina are sentenced to death by Graves. This is Scenes 67, 69, etc. – the ones taking place in the Death Chamber. Nothing about this makes any sense. And that’s even allowing for convoluted explanations as to why sentencing Newt and Tina to death seems a perfectly normal turn of events (Imperius Curse or American wizards are just barbaric). Wizards have an instantaneous and (as far as we know) painless way of killing someone – the Killing Curse. With that at their disposal, why on earth does a Death Chamber even exist? For the glamor of it all?
Moreover, given that I just wrote an essay about Grindelwald being a compelling villain, why is he behaving like every Bond villain ever in this scene? Really, he left the protagonists to face a convoluted and protracted death because he had better things to do? Even Voldemort, for all that he fits most Evil Overlord clichés head-on, never made that mistake. Between this and Delphi writing a reminder to herself to “Bring back the dark,” Rowling’s villains are veering dangerously close to cartoonish clichés for the sake of plot expediency.
Whew. Glad I got that all off my chest. And it bears repeating – I don’t consider Fantastic Beasts to be a bad movie. It’s better than most of the Harry Potter films by a long-shot, with the exception of the first two. But the film’s not without its flaws, and I hope Jo will hone her craft as the series progresses.