More Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts

I figured out last night why Anthony and I had such a disagreement on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, particularly in regards to who the protagonist should be: I went into Fantastic Beasts blind, not having read any reviews or articles, exposed myself to any spoilers, or even really seen any previews!

I spent a good chunk of the movie unsure as to whether or not Newt was a villain.

Here’s why:

The film starts with a montage of newspaper clips all “Villainous Villain Engages in Villainy!” The movie then takes us to a weird looking shifty guy who acts shifty. I spent the first 10 minutes of the film thinking “Is this the bad guy?”

The first thing Newt does is arrive in America with a suitcase, looking every which way like he’s worried he’s going to get caught, and lie to a customs inspector about what he has with him – he’s obviously smuggling something. He fidgets his way to a bank, sits down, makes highly conspicuous small-talk on the bench, and when he gets up, he’s left a silver egg behind. Newt spends the first 10 minutes of the movie looking like a freaking terrorist worried someone is going to notice he’s strapped with C4, and then, holy crap, he just left a monster egg in the middle of a crowded bank and this is a movie about the trouble caused by magic monsters getting loose (I know that much)!

On the other hand, the first things we find out about Jacob are that he’s trying to start a small business, family is important to him, and he is a World War One vet, which makes him a pretty damn big hero in my book.

While Jacob is obviously a solid dude, I literally spent the first quarter of the movie unsure what kind of person Newt was. If you look at the story on its own, in a vacuum divorced from back of book text, trailer clips showing middle-to-late scenes in the movie, and review buzz, Newt’s motives remain uncertain until the big reveal of his pocket-dimension menagerie. That comes roughly 45 minutes into the movie.

I spent the first 10 minutes thinking Newt was maybe a bad guy and the next 35 minutes wondering just what his angle was. I think in that context, I can be forgiven if I couldn’t peg him right away as the story’s protagonist when Kowalski was introduced right away as clearly a good and honest man.

So when the guy I knew from the start of the movie was a good guy disappears from most of the last act (Kowalski is gone for a seriously long time after he makes like’s gonna go with Queenie and do something big) and the guy who spent the first 45 minutes of the movie acting like he could plausibly be the villain, or is at least a Cyrano Jones, is the one who has the big showdown with the real bad guy, yeah, I was bummed.

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23 responses to “More Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts

  1. It worked best of all the Potter movies AS a movie (Harry Potter should have always been more of a 7 season TV series).

    Still, I was hoping for a jolly adventure with Newt & Jacob traipsing around having adventures helping animals, an HP style Steve Irwin. If you need to have a villain in the film (and some fans have pointed out to me that Grendlewald [sp?] does need to be in there), then have him after one or some of the animals Newt is – easy enough for plot.

    But no, we have to have the “evil religious folk doing evil repression things” subplot that just kept dragging down the plot. The movie wasn’t horrible, just… could have been so much better and more entertaining.

    • Except for the last act, I liked it better than any of the other Harry Potter movies.

      The entire Graves/Obscura plot that decided it was the A plot instead of ‘monsters got loose/hijinx ensue’ was bad enough to spoil what had, up until the last 30 minutes or so, been a pretty great movie.

    • I think that movie 5 was the only one that actually improved upon the book. It added a couple of really terrific lines (Harry’s “I must not tell lies” in the forest is so perfect I actually get kind of frustrated it’s not in the book, and Sirius yelling “Nice one, James” is a great little moment that perfectly illustrates Sirius’s internal conflict) and greatly improved the pacing.

      The two book seven movies made some improvements as well, as much as I hated Neville’s corny speech at the end.

      • I keep telling myself I’ll get around to reading the books some day, because I DO like the movies, but when I’ve got literally thousands of other things I need to read, it’s hard to prioritize something like that.

      • (Harry stabbing the tiara with the basilisk fang made way more sense than introducing a new Horcrux-destroying method halfway into the final act, and Dobby saying “Only maim, or seriously injure!” was a real highlight.)

      • That scene where Hermione goes into the forest to manipulate the centaurs was in the book. But that scene when Umbridge tells Harry “Tell them I mean them no harm!” and Harry answers “I’m sorry, Professor. I must not tell lies” is all movie, and it provides the satisfying climax to that storyline the book never provided.

        I actually get kind of frustrated reading that scene in the books now. I had a similar experience after watching the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes episode “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”. There’s a single line at the end of the episode that ties everything together so perfectly I’m actually frustrated Conan Doyle didn’t include it!

      • I actually need to watch the 7s, I watched up to 6.

        Of course, part of what helped #5 is that the book was bloated and weak enough that it editing it could only help improve it.

      • You’re right about book five, though I was always fond of it due to it containing two of the most awesome scenes in the series (the Weasley brothers leaving and Dumbledore’s escape).

        I also thought she handled Sirius’s death excellently.

      • And Dumbledore!

        “I thought we’d hit that little snag. You seem to think that I’ll – What is the phrase? – ‘Come quietly’. I have no intention of coming quietly, Cornelius.”

  2. That’s an interesting point I never really considered. I’ve been excited about the movie for awhile now so I was already looking forward to liking Newt. It wasn’t REALLY until mid-film or so when I grew to really like him – either when he went through the mating dance with the erumpent (which was hilarious and a great scene) or when he starts yelling about them taking his briefcase when he’s at MACUSA. It was the most emotion he’d shown all film, and it was a surprisingly gut-wrenching moment. It was then I kind of went “Wow, I actually feel really bad for him!”

    • See, and if he’s NOT the protagonist, that big reveal is an INCREDIBLY powerful and moving moment, and was one of the best emotional beats of the film.

      It’s just, unless you go into it knowing exactly who he is, you aren’t sure about the guy until that reveal (but that’s part of why the reveal is so powerful). Like “OH! He’s actually a really nice guy!” Cuz seriously, in a vacuum, the way the film is set up, it implies at the beginning that Newt either is Grindlewald or somehow tied to evil wizardry.

      • It was still a really good emotional beat.

        I dunno. I don’t really disagree that the obscurus plot was the weakest stuff, but I thought Newt running off after it was one of his best BDH moments. And honestly, I thought the final three scenes afterward – Jacob’s farewell, Newt’s farewell, and Jacob in the bakery – were some of the best scenes in the whole film. They pretty much salvaged the entire ending for me. I left with a huge grin on my face – for me it was almost a feel good film.

        But you weren’t really a fan of them, so I see why you’d leave far more disappointed.

      • For me, the bakery scene almost made up for some of the scenes leading up to it, but I was still disappointed that Jacob and Queenie pretty much disappear from the movie right at the point where it’s implied that he’s gonna do something reckless and awesome.

    • In a way, it’s kinda cool, because I got to experience an entirely different movie from more obsessive fans who’d already done a bunch of research and knew going into it who everyone was and what their deal was.

  3. The problem I had was Newt was a lame protagonist and Jacob was just so much more likable (and his love interest as well) that I found the whole thing so much more engaging when they were onscreen and I left the movie sad that they are unlikely to be in the sequels and instead we’ll get more of ‘quirky’ Newt.

  4. I do need to thank you for the discussion. You helped me make some improvements to an outline I have for a pulpy superhero story about a knight who fights supernatural creatures in inner city New Jersey. I’m seriously considering creating a Jacob-type character now and making him the protagonist, with Paladin (the superhero) as the deuteragonist.

    You’ve helped crystallize in my head how valuable and interesting a character like that can be.

    (When I came up with the story I wanted to do a sort of gritty street level hero story combined with an urban fantasy, which is a challenge for me and something I’ve never written before. I actually have it plotted out from start to finish in some detail, but I think you’ve managed to bring to light some serious improvements I could make.)

  5. That’s a good take on the movie. I’d been watching all the trailers and knew this was going to tie into the Grindlewald war, so I knew Newt was the Designated Protagonist and was unimpressed. I had the same issues with the ending. The actual story of this movie was sacrificed to provide set-up for the sequel. The bakery scene was just enough to make me come out liking it.

    I wish they’d had the guts to do a from-scratch 1920s pulp fantasy adventure instead of tying it back to the Potterverse. It would’ve been a better story.

    • Thanks!

      And absolutely; it came so close to being not just something that I wanted but something that I would’ve never expected, it was a whammy to have been teased with it only to have it taken away.

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