Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first venture out into the outer limits of the Potterverse. Finally free from the constraints of the Harry Potter books, Warner Brothers is able to freely explore the infinitely imaginative mind by J.K. Rowling. Would they make an origin story of Dumbledore? Would they make a sequel focused on Harry’s children?
How about a movie of about the author of a book required for first-year students at Hogwarts? I guess that could be fun. Will they make a movie about the authors of all the different books? No, just Newt Scamander? Okay… I hope they came up with a great idea.
Well, to my surprise and dismay, they did come up a great story idea, two of them to be exact. They took those two ideas, smashed them together and made Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Movie #1: Fantastic Beasts
Movie #1 should have been what Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was supposed to be, and partially is. Eddie Redmayne’s strengths as an actor are on full display when he’s living in the animal-centric world in his head. His clumsy, awkward demeanor works when he’s oblivious to the humans around him.
Why not make a movie that’s just focused on these dynamics? There’s plenty of animal material in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to fill an entire movie. The story of Newt befriending muggle/no-maj Jacob Kowalski while rushing to save magical creatures would be a fun magical romp.
It would be heart felt. It would be cute. It would be good old-fashioned family fun.
Because the unfortunate truth is that the only fun you have while watching Fantastic Beasts is when Newt and Jacob are tracking down animals. Every time you start to have fun, the movie pulls you out and puts you into a different movie. A period crime drama. This other movie is completely devoid of fun and will terrify children. The result of combining these two movies is a bipolar experience for the audience.
Let’s be honest, Newt Scamander is not someone to carry a brooding mystery. He is a bumbling goof who’s socially inept. His world is animals. Let Newt save the animals. Keep him in his wheelhouse. Leave the intense murder mysteries to other wizards.
Movie #2: The Second Salemers
Movie #2 may sound pretty unenjoyable by the way I just described it, but I actually think this movie would be the better of the two presented in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Take out Newt Scamander, focus on Tina Goldstein as a rejected Auror investigating a mystery, and you’ve got a great movie.
Tina’s story focuses on her investigation of the Second Salemers (fanatic humans convinced witches exist) and introduces some incredible dark and interesting aspects of the wizarding world. Magic repression in 1920s New York City is a fascinating concept. It bothers me that we’ll never get to see that movie.
What we DO get to see in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a neutered, hacked down version of that great wizarding crime epic. We get to see great actors pushed aside to make room for a barely connected story about Newt Scamander and his goofy quest to help animals.
The actress who plays Tina Goldstein, Katherine Waterston, does more than enough in Fantastic Beasts to prove that she could have carried a movie like this as the main lead. As seen in the movie as presented, she’s incredibly capable, incredibly tough. I would have loved to see her go toe to toe with Colin Farrell.
Speaking of which, Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller are completely wasted in Fantastic Beasts. While their performances are still good, there’s just not enough substance for them to work with. Their arcs are shortened. Their motivations are unclear. Given a full movie, they would have created amazing characters that would be hard to forget.
But as it stands, they end up not mattering all that much and will just be an afterthought.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the first film in movie history to be worse than the non-existent book that we all will wish existed.
Maybe I would feel differently if a full length book existed. Maybe my mind would be torn by all the gaps, holes and tonal shifts. Maybe this is what it’s like to watch a Harry Potter movie without having read one of the books.
Maybe the two stories would make sense together.
But as it is, the story of the Second Salemers doesn’t need Newt Scamander or his fantastic beasts. And the story of Newt Scamander doesn’t need the story of the Second Salemers. To combine the two movies is to destroy two perfectly great ideas.
They are both quality movies, but they aren’t compatible.
Watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is like eating two Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. One is apple pie and the other is spaghetti. You like them both, just not at the same time.