Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a despicable exercise in calculated marketing. It’s not a Harry Potter story at all, even though it takes place in the Harry Potter universe.
This is a movie about two bros. Bro number one, Ginger Bro, has a magic briefcase that opens up to an alternate world, where he hoards pets, which all seem to be well cared for. Ginger Bro is not a bad sort, although he frequently lets his pets accidentally escape, thus providing this movie with a plot, which makes him the hero, if you want to call it that, especially given that his character wrote the book the movie is sort of based around.
Bro number two is a chubby Polish muggle who wants to start a bakery. He is the real star of the movie. He is incomprehensibly crushed on by a lovely lady despite being a chubby factory worker. For a moment, this puzzled me. The Harry Potter franchise is beloved by millions, but I never quite saw it as associated with factory workers who aspire to be bakers before. Me, personally, I’d pick a Young Adult to be the hero, or maybe a squad of them, but what do I know.
There are some sisters to provide romantic adventures with the bros, Porpentina and Queenie Goldstein, a pair of nice wizard girls. Tina, the butch one, used to be an auror before getting in trouble for excessive force, while Queenie is a mind-reading flapper who channels Marilyn Monroe. She instantly falls in love with the muggle, because she’s psychic enough to realize she’s stuck in a bro movie and mercenary enough to make the best of it.
Finally, we have some villains. Tormented child Credence, according to the X-ray View, is played by a handsome youth when equipped with his own hair. Here he is forced to wear an unbecoming Moe Howard tribute do, while suffering abuse from his mean religious mommy-surrogate. The religious-flavored bullying of young adults has been a popular theme with my generation ever since Carrie. At one time it was a nod back at the bullied protagonists of English Lit, such as Jane Eyre and David Copperfield, but I’ll just say there’s a fine line between child abuse and lurid sensational depictions of child abuse that linger on the abuse in an overly-interested sort of fashion, and leave it at that. There are some eeeevil mustache twirling politicians too. I’m not sure I want to talk about these villains anymore.
As far as the beasts, the true star of the film, lots of them are deliberately gross or ugly, with tentacle faces and miniscule heads. Ginger bro’s prize specimen allegedly lives in the Southwest, and I actually sat through the entire remainder of the movie hoping there would be jackalopes, with resulting disappointment when they never got out of magic Manhattan.
Because, yeah, an audience that thinks it’s headed to a kids movie, about animals, would probably assume it takes place outdoors somewhere, in a place that could benefit from the IMAXical special effects and 3D gimmickry that future generations will mock. But no. It takes place in Manhattan, where it tries very hard to be a Woody Allen film, as opposed to a Harry Potter film.
This is a bad, cynical movie that wants to rake in the fandom dollars while treating the fans with smug contempt. At least Cursed Child had some genuine affection for its source material. I feel sorry for the actors, since they do a fine job and most of it isn’t their fault.