Since the election of Trump, we have been saturated in Harry Potter nonsense. We turn to popular culture to understand our legal, political, ethical, and social frameworks. It teaches us and reinforces the adoption of norms that we need to navigate our complex worlds. But there was so much Harry Potter. So much. And it’s not even like Harry Potter is any good. It was like the only coping mechanism available the lumpenliberals who riddle our commentariat was to escape into mediocre white fantasy.
So it’s against this background — utterly, utterly sick to death of everything J.K. Rowling — that I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The thing you have to realise about Rowling’s work is that she’s an idiot and she doesn’t have anything interesting to say. Once you’ve worked that out, all of her fiction makes sense.
So you start with a big, idiot idea — ‘Isn’t it bad for people to suppress their true identities?’ — and wrap some magic mumbo jumbonus around it, and then turn it into millions of dollars.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is all about oppression as understood by a white liberal woman. Wizards are born with magic powers and in 1920s America, they are a persecuted race. Non-magical people hate wizards. They hold rallies and say, ‘Boo to wizards!’ They say all kinds of mean things about wizards and this really, really hurts the wizards’ feelings.
So wizards hide their wizard powers… or something… and try to pass in the world as non-magical people… for some reason.
It’s not like the non-magical folk seem to be any physical threat to wizards at all. In fact, it seems like the non-magical people have a pretty good point: all this magical crap keeps occurring, killing people and endangering others, but nobody will tell them what the goddamn hell is going on. Hell, yeah, I would want all the wizards out of town if family members mysteriously turned inside out for no reason. And even then, all I could do was ask nicely because wizards have all this magical power to make us all forget that wizards exist, and also every single one of them appears to be carrying wands like a concealed weapon.
But J.K. Rowling hasn’t thought this far ahead. She wants to talk about identity and oppression and, by Merlin’s beard, she is going to do it.
So she bolts together two different stories. On the one hand, we have the inexplicable story of a man, Newt Scamander (played by the completely insufferable Eddie Redmayne), who wants to release some kind of beast in Arizona… or something… for some reason… but all of the monsters escape from his suitcase (it’s a magic suitcase) and he has to catch them all again with a non-magical man who got wrapped up in these events by accident (to his credit, Dan Fogler plays this role exceptionally well).
On the other hand, we have a story all about the politics of 1920s New York, but the people who are really oppressed are all the wizards. Also, there is a wizard Hitler on the loose. These stories never mesh properly, and the movie frequently pauses both stories to explore some magical bullshit thing that doesn’t advance the story at all.
There’s a lot to hate about this movie, so it’s quite difficult to know where to start.
The characters are underdone, many of the political messages of the film are odious and stupid, the story makes precisely zero sense, and everything about the film is ugly.
During the drafting process for any piece of fiction, you need to take a moment to ask yourself: ‘What do my characters want and how will they try to get it?’ The characters of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them either don’t want anything or they have no idea how to achieve their goals. Let’s start with the protagonist: he wants to release one (1) beast into the wild. He does this by smuggling many (>1) animals into New York in a device that is prone to bursting open and releasing random animals into the environment.
Given the highly regulated nature of the wizarding world, you would imagine that there would be some kind of ‘magic customs’ to prevent a wizard from smuggling a briefcase full of animals across national borders. At one point, the President of American Magic or whatever says to some European wizard, ‘You let wizard Hitler escape, so I won’t take lectures from you!’ and all I could think about was that her administration seems to be totally chill when it comes to smuggling animals. The fact that wizard Hitler is also in the United States seems also to suggest that not all is well with basic administration. Humans have worked this out and they don’t have goblins and bullshit to run the system for us. How can wizards suck this much at basic tasks? Does magic fry the brain?
Lots of spoilers here.
Not only does quarantine law not exist among wizards, basic background checks don’t either. It was dumb enough that the original Harry Potter series had a villain somehow disguise himself as an ally through magic hocus pocus crap, but at least that was ‘Person infiltrates a high school’. In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, magic Hitler has somehow escaped Europe and become a senior executive in the wizard administration. How can this happen? What society could function like this? And given how easy it is to reveal him at the end, why didn’t this happen earlier?
Further, wizard Hitler — and I feel bad for writing this sentence — appears to be morally correct. His argument is that the wizarding world has internalised undeserved shame should not have to hide from the non-magical world. His argument is that people should be free to express themselves and not be ashamed of themselves. Doesn’t this seem… right? Like, that seems like an intuitively attractive idea.
And his campaign is to force the hand: reveal the wizarding community to the rest of the world through something dramatic. This might be overkill. Just appearing in public and doing real magic would probably do the trick. Even so, he seems to be right.
The US Administration of Magic, on the other hand, all appear to be raving, evil morons. Two people are sentenced to death for not doing terribly much. The President even claims that the crimes include not reporting a crime, even though the characters did try to report the crime and the President personally told them to get fucked.
Back to wizard Hitler. Why has he infiltrated the administration? And why does he help to carry out the death penalty on two wizards who look like they’re going to bumble their way into revealing the existence of wizards?
Come the end of the movie, there’s a dead child, wizard Hitler is in gaol, and the main character is free to release his smuggled animal into the wild. It makes no goddamn sense and this movie is bad.