Saturday, February 2, 2019

Review - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The day has finally arrived. 
Today is the day I’m going to finally review this wonderful story!
This has been long overdue, but I don’t want to hold back my words anymore, just because it’s not a proper novel. I read the screenplay, though, and I have a lot to say about it. This is my favourite fictional world ever, and that means, I won’t shut up. And it shouldn’t surprise you. So, if you haven’t read the screenplay, or seen the movie, just go away, ok? This will be spoilery. And long, very long. But you already know I do that, so let’s go.

I have to say it, it is weird to go to see a movie that takes place in the Wizarding World, without having read a book first. I don’t know what to expect when I sit there to watch, but it is both strange and familiar at the same time. And this sums up my feelings after it, in one picture. I’m both these guys.


The fact that this isn’t the adaptation of a novel can be a good thing; we don’t see what someone cut and interpreted, but instead, we see directly what JK Rowling wrote and imagined. The book is the movie. And besides the utterly lovable characters, I really like the Easter eggs they scattered here and there, like the many creatures that are not mentioned, only shown, but still, any self-respectable Potterhead can recognize them: the billywig, the nundu, the fwooper, the diricawl, and of course, that pilfering niffler. I loved that they saw and took some of the golden opportunities given by this world, deciding to show fantasy creatures that are not the traditional ones, like dragons, or unicorns, choosing originality instead. Well done!

There’s something I really, really value, that is constant in everything JK Rowling wrote about the Wizarding World. Things are very clear in her head, because, here, the important thing is WHO YOU ARE. Not how you look like, or what you have. And I can sustain this. For example, take president Seraphina Picquery, and let’s get realistic for a second: in our world, racism and sexism are current problems, no one can deny they are ever-present issues. But the Wizarding World, already in the ‘20s, is light years ahead, with a powerful Minister of Magic who is both female, and a woman of colour! The real question is, why this has to stay fictional? Although that’s entirely another day’s topic, that doesn’t concern us in this review. My point is that Rowling barely describes her characters’ physical look in the screenplay, because again, what matters is who they are as people, their talents and capacity, their passion, their convictions, their actions, and the decisions that define their role in the story she’s trying to tell. It would be good if, even for a moment, we stop and think about that. 

And based on this, think how behind muggles are in comparison! While the wizarding community values all those things I mentioned, and doesn’t care about skin colour, sex, or nationality, when it comes to positions of power, or the well-being of their people, muggles go centuries behind them in their mentality. Literally. At the beginning of the movie, we see Mary Lou Barebone saying this:

. . . this great city sparkles with the jewels of man’s invention! Movie theaters, automobiles, the wireless, electric lights—all dazzle and bewitch us!

It’s funny that she is talking about progress, when, in fact, she is a walking contradiction. She and her followers are named the Second Salemers, and do things like they did no less than three full centuries ago from their time, still paranoid, looking for witch marks in people’s bodies, and hunting them to figuratively burn them at the stake. Even her kids dress similarly to the way they did in the 17th century, and get beaten up at the minimum slip in their conduct. So much for progress, right? All this while the Wizarding World is concerned by more pressing matters and shows superiority not only in their magic, but in the little, more evident things that muggles could also try from time to time. They find Mary Lou’s attempts even kind of funny, like just annoying background noise. True is that Mary Lou had a point, something was definitely off, wreaking havoc in the city and disappearing without a trace. Not even the obliviation after what Tina did to her could get the idea out of her head. But how on Earth she thought she could fight such a destructive force with just her speeches and pamphlets, it baffles my mind. 

But let’s go to the best part.

Ok, Newt Artemis Fido Scamander… *sigh* 
Yeah. I adore him. Can’t pretend that I don’t. I love Newt for many things, and Eddie Redmayne deserves an award solely for the expression in his eyes through this whole story. He’s the perfect casting choice for Newt, and you can’t argue with me on that. I really love how well he shows us the difference between Newt around people, and Newt with his creatures. He’s shy, and awkward, he doesn’t speak a lot, and most of the time he avoids eye contact. He’s not exactly what we would call ‘a people’s person’, being permanently uncomfortable around others. But inside his case, he transforms, he talks to his creatures as if they were family, all his awkwardness disappears, and even his whole body posture changes. His world, his life, are inside his suitcase. There, he smiles almost permanently, most of the time with that sheer, pure loving expression in his eyes, especially when he strokes Frank’s head, and tells Jacob about how he found him in Egypt, and decided to save him. I love how free and active he is when he’s in his element, as he goes from one creature to another, feeding them, healing them, and explaining them, everything with a perfectly visible passion. He has a big heart and defends all forms of life. I love how he’s not very worried when, later, he says “I annoy people”, because dealing with people isn’t really something he cares about, he’s always more comfortable with animals, that is what he really loves to do, and won’t apologize for it. He’s authentic. He doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not. And for that, I love him even more (oh, and by the way, his face when he first enters the American Ministry of Magic is priceless).

And Tina…! 
Porpentina Esther Goldstein, Ilvermorny Thunderbird, natural badass, and an Auror for MACUSA, with a penchant for justice. She could easily be a Gryffindor. I love her, utterly and completely –especially when she nags Newt–, and I see a lot of potential in her character. She’s just a normal girl, who goes to work every day, and does the best she can with what she’s got (doesn’t get more relatable than that, right?). At first, I noticed her looks, with her short hair, not so neatly done as Queenie’s, the minimum of make-up, and of course, her clothes. Always in gray and white, she’s not a remarkable figure, and if I walked next to her on the street, I would barely notice her. She’s the kind of person that easily gets lost in a crowd. Her coat looks old and worn, even oversized, as she was degraded from Auror to the almost forgotten Wand Permit Office, which can tell us that they let her stay in the Ministry almost out of pity after her scandal; hers is an office that doesn’t actually need people, it’s dark and in the lower levels, the typing machines do the work all on their own, and she’s alone; and besides, the name tag on Tina’s desk says Queenie Goldstein, meaning that not even Tina herself cares enough about what she does. She has genuine reasons to be bitter. She barely smiles, in the entire movie, but when she does, her face lights up; I’m over the clouds because she always smiles around Newt, who, more than once, gets caught up in that, unable to stop staring at her. But still, I love how she never stops being loyal to herself, to her profession as a security force, and her commitment with justice, protecting the city and its people, wizards or not. I’m very happy JK Rowling decided to write Tina as an Auror from the start, giving her a chance to show her bravery and badassery, like a true Thunderbird. She defies authority in the name of justice. She even duelled Grindelwald himself, and being the first one to attack, for crying out loud! We should never forget that. 

The difference between the Goldstein sisters is perfectly visible; they are both very well written and portrayed, since you can see that from their attitudes to their costumes, and you don’t have to look further than their sleeping attires.
I think that says it all. While Tina is more of a practical girl, and perhaps less easy-going, because as the older sister she had to take the reins of their family after their parents’ death, Queenie is a happy, flirty girl, not to mention beautiful, always smiling, and being sweet with everyone. Having Tina and Queenie in the same room, it is very clear which of them will immediately attract the attention, leaving the other in the shadows. But Tina has wits, inner strength, and her own type of beauty, perhaps less dazzling than Queenie’s, but there nonetheless. And even when the world doesn’t really notice her, Newt does, and I can totally see where their connection lies, something that fails in most of the romances I’ve seen or read. They are both very similar, as Tina had with Credence the same attitude Newt had with his thunderbird, Frank. They both saw them chained up, unfairly suffering and being mistreated, and decided to act on it, no matter the consequences. Doing the right thing is important to them, more than anything else, and they have the same attitude towards defending life and protecting the innocent.

As for dear Queenie… Let’s face it, guys. More often than not, the happy, pretty blond girl in stories is also the dumb, shallow one. But Queenie Goldstein not only breaks that rule; she destroys it. 
Being a Legilimens, she can perceive people for who they really are, and she can’t be fooled. Unlike in other worlds I’ve seen and read, here being pretty doesn’t mean being a slut, or a selfish brat, the same way being sweet, loving and caring, it's not synonymous with being silly, and unaware of the world around you. I know it sounds evident, but many books and movies miss that! Queenie has courage, and a great inner strength, and not everyone knows what she can do with her mind, which is great, because it allows her to see people’s real intentions. And her relationship with Jacob is the sweetest thing ever.

Truth be told, Jacob Kowalski is not an Adonis, and not your typical love interest. He’s just a regular muggle guy with a heart of gold, a difficult life, and the dream to make people happy with food. He stumbles upon the Wizarding World by accident, and just like us, he’s fascinated and wants to be a part of it. Jacob is all of us, and proves that you don’t have to have magic to be a part of a fantastic story, getting to be Newt’s friend and sidekick. I’m happy that, for the first time, a muggle can be so important for the development of a story set in this world. He’s there as the comic relief, most of the time, but his character has a purpose, and is utterly lovable. Queenie falls in love with him for who he is as a person, for the interests they share, and not for his physical appearance, breaking the concept that, sadly, is strongly installed in fiction: that the blond, giggly, gorgeous girl won’t look twice to a guy who isn’t nearly as attractive as she is, and that the man without the perfect body and the sparkling blue eyes is not worthy of a decent romance, nor can love a beautiful woman without being rejected, and his part is only the one of the goofy, hopelessly in love village idiot, who, obviously, doesn’t stand a chance. 

We already saw this in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, even if briefly, in Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour’s relationship. Mrs. Weasley thinks she’s going to abandon him because he’s no longer so handsome, after Fenrir Greyback attacks him, but Fleur gets angry with her, proving that she’s not as vain as everyone thinks, and that she really loves Bill, and will love him no matter what, being ready to stay with him through thick and thin. That is the kind of healthy relationship that should be seen more often in fiction. Romance and love based on who people really are, in their personalities, interests and talents, and less focused on being insanely beautiful, or rich, or any other less important thing, that, at the end of the day, isn’t key to be happy.

But back to Newt and Tina! I love their relationship, and I root for them, even when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the book), already tell us how their story will eventually end: “Now retired, he lives in Dorset with his wife Porpentina and their pet Kneazles: Hoppy, Milly, and Mauler.” But this doesn’t make me any less excited! Giving actual faces to these two names, along with well-defined personalities, is utterly priceless. And this is what I meant before. Here, Porpentina is just a name, we don’t know who she is, where she came from, how she met Newt… There’s nothing, except a great opportunity to be creative. And I love JK Rowling for taking it to make her a badass from day one, writing her as an Auror, of all magical professions. 

Both Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston do a great job with their characters, to the point that I can’t think of anyone else better suited to be Newt and Tina. I love them, and I love how they portray them by making acting choices, and adding things to their performance that go beyond what it is in the screenplay, and that are personal to each of them (like when Newt places his wand between his teeth). I love that JK Rowling decided to give them a story all of their own, and honestly, my favourite scenes in this movie are both the dinner in the Goldsteins’ apartment, and the farewell at the docks.

The first one, because, well, the magic in everyday life and how natural it feels, for starters; I love how they just flick their wands and cook, and settle the table, and everything. But besides that, the tension! Even when Queenie and Jacob get along almost immediately, and make the others uncomfortable, we still get to see Newt enchanted with the little home and the sisters, and Tina’s attitude in a different role, other than the Auror who arrested him. She wasn’t obligated to give him a place to stay, nor anything, for that matter, but she acted showing her good heart, and that she cares. The glances they exchange across the table as the others talk, and especially when Tina stands up and says “Okay, you guys can bunk in here.”, are what I mean. The screenplay says nothing about Newt and Tina looking at each other fondly, or surprised, or anything. The actors added that, and they totally let me see the start of their relationship, without a single word. Just a look.
Those eyebrows, Newt...

*snap back to reality*

Sorry.

Anyway, later on, when she turns him in after what happened in Central Park, and Graves questions him about the Obscurus, Newt answers his questions looking at Tina, who is standing right behind him, because he cares more about her knowing that both he and his creatures are innocent, than the law itself. It’s important for him that Tina knows he didn’t betray her. And, like any self-respecting Hufflepuff, he’s loyal to the end, because he doesn’t hold a grudge, and stays to save Tina in the death potion room, instead of running away without her, choosing to look at her directly in the eyes –something unusual in him–, and getting her to trust him in despite of her fear (and her sass).


And the scene in the docks, well… *sigh* It’s been long since I saw something so sweet and heart-warming. Newt and Tina are adorably awkward in this one, but there’s noticeable changes, things that weren’t there at the start of the story. For example, Tina’s clothing. She’s still in white, gray and black, but her clothes are now becoming, and fit her perfectly; she’s wearing high heel boots, and a trench coat, her hair is done, she smiles more, and in every possible way she looks more refined and pretty than she did at the beginning of the movie, mostly because she’s an Auror again. And she has someone to thank that for. I love Newt in this scene, because he’s awkward, and shy, and his words don’t come out as he would like them in front of Tina, but she doesn’t mind, because she’s as embarrassed as him, expectant, and almost moved to tears. And what I love the most, is this:

Newt gazes at Tina—awkwardly affectionate. He gently reaches forward and touches her hair. Lingering for a moment, they stare into each other’s eyes.

This, in my opinion, is a lesson for storytelling in general. In a film and literary world in which a romantic relationship, apparently, can’t be told without the characters constantly lusting after each other, to the disgusting point (and you know I’m not exaggerating), this is a breath of fresh air. The way they look at each other, so intensely, told me everything I needed to know. 


It was a good thing they didn’t kiss. This relationship wouldn’t be so sweet if it were rushed. Because even when he says nothing, and only breaks his awkwardness to sweetly stroke her hair, you can tell what they are thinking. You know that Tina is wishing he wouldn’t have to leave, and Newt even stops on the gangplank, fighting his wish to get back with her instead of boarding the ship, after somehow promising to see her again. I love his dawning realization, when he says that people change, and that he changed, after Tina mentions Leta Lestrange, who is, as we later find out, Tina’s complete opposite. He wasn’t even thinking of Leta –anymore–, as Tina mentioning her takes him by surprise.

It’s simple, and beautiful. It’s two people who found each other and discovered the other wasn’t what they thought they would be (something that sums up the concept of the fantastic beasts, in general). The gap between their duties and their passions is very notorious in both of them, especially with Tina, as she spends the whole movie doing what she thinks is right, instead of what her position in MACUSA demands from her. And that is the start that leads someone to be a hero. Breaking the rules and standing up for what you believe in.

Finally, a word on villains and victims. Gellert Grindelwad a.k.a Mr. Graves, is one power-hungry, smooth-talking villain. His most effective weapon are his promises, because he gets what he wants through saying the right word at the right time (unlike He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named).

Tom Riddle is more of a strong, fearsome kind of villain, who seeks power over everything else, but is also secretly afraid of the things he doesn’t understand, that did everything he did for his wish for immortality, and his fear of death. Grindelwald’s motivation, for what we know at this point, it’s far from that, and gets people to cooperate by promising things. My point is that Grindelwald’s weapon is not fear. Let’s think about that for a second. He generates fanatism without threats, as he gathered some of the followers we know so far through the promise to end their suffering in a society that doesn’t understand them, and by giving them the chance to choose. “For the greater good”, he says. Voldemort’s Death Eaters don’t think this way. But since Grindelwald has a bigger role in the next movie, I’ll talk further about him in that review.

And Credence… The poor boy.
I definitely want to know more about him, his background, how he ended up with that crazy Mary Lou Barebone… There’s a lot of potential there. Most of the time, he appears to be an absent-minded push-over, as he follows Mary Lou around, says yes to everything, and gives away her pamphlets. He wants to be a part of the Wizarding World to escape his miserable life, and that is what Graves uses to his advantage. And honestly, who could blame him? We ourselves are that kid in the cupboard too, sometimes, waiting for someone to come and tell us we are wizards, and then take us to this wonderful place. Credence is relatable that way. As for him being the Obscurial, I figured it out by half of the movie, I was not fooled there. However, I find the whole concept of the Obscurus extremely interesting. A dark, uncontrollable power, like rotten magic, that comes from wizards and witches supressing their power at an early age, and that eventually kills them. Is that what Ariana Dumbledore was going to become, eventually, hadn’t she died so young? *suspenseful silence*. 

And it’s not for supporting Grindelwald, but Credence really is a miracle. How could he survive that long with that inside of him? Can it be removed? Can it be turned into a positive force, through helping him handle that power? So many questions!

But we do know one thing, and that is that, if you are familiar with Rowling’s style, you know that she will distract you, getting you into thinking you are aware of everything, when in fact you were looking in the wrong direction the whole time. It’s undeniable that Rowling is a master in distracting you from the hints, including them when your attention is elsewhere, and in the end slapping you in the face with the truth. No writer I’ve ever read does this better than her. 

*sigh*

Let’s face it, people. No one can create an entire world inside one simple suitcase and take you in a unique adventure, the way JK Rowling does. She’s the Queen of Magic for a reason, and Fantastic Beasts, in a way or another, sums up everything I love in fiction. I will never stop loving this world. It’s definitely the best, most fleshed-out fantasy world I’ve ever had the luck to find, and it will never stop fascinating me. This shows the power imagination has, and what a talented, passionate writer can do, as it makes you feel this world is very real, and at grasp, right there in front of you. Not to mention that it always feels like coming home. *sob*

I can’t wait to know how this story will continue, and I hope it only gets better and better.


3 comments:

  1. Queenie was a welcome break from the stereotypical blonde women in movies. She was so sweet and she was absolutely one of my favorites!
    I agree with you on the subject that a woman being President of the Ministry in that time was fantastic. In a way, the Wizarding World was more advanced than ours. But in another way (when referring to technology and so) we Muggles were more advanced than them. ��

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    Replies
    1. Advanced in technology, yes, but not so much in mentality. There's so much we can learn from the Wizarding World! It's one of the best built fantasy worlds ever and not just because of the magic and the fantasy elements.
      Thank you very much for your comment!

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