I saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them over the Christmas holiday and I had some very interesting thoughts. Again, I don’t want to hash out “yet another review” of whether it was good or not. I’ll leave that to the professionals. I will also assume anyone reading this has already seen the movie, because although I will attempt to be spoiler-free, I will reference key moments in the plot which might not make sense until you see them.
No, I was struck by something and it was niggling my brain the entire movie. It’s an old quote I read or heard where the definition of fantasy is that the fantastical element is what solves the problem. So just having magic isn’t enough – magic has to be the catalyst for the climax – the magic of the book/character. Otherwise it’s just a story that happens to exist in a fantasy realm. Same rule applies to sci-fi. “Science” (as it is classified in that universe) must solve the climatic issue, not just “higgly-piffly-wow” or whatever. Otherwise, again, it’s just fiction with a science fiction theme thrown on top. Difficult to manage in character-driven plots, but possible (I think Red Shirts is a great example of “character-driven, sci-fi solution”).
FB&WtFT uses magic intricately, and at the end I had to consider whether they used magic or whether it was just a book-in-a-fantastic-world (several HP books are more “happen to be in a fantasy world” than a magical solution). I would argue they did use magic – and a magical beast no less – to solve one of the two major threats in the plot. The first solution was the direct magical barrage, and I actually would argue that is not using magic as a solution per say merely because there was nothing specific or even challenging in that solution (I actually really didn’t like that!). IF the confrontation with Credence is the climax, I felt it was… well it really wasn’t, it was the extremely short confrontation with Graves which is the real climax – and it was kind of anti-climatic merely because I never felt he was a threat. He was one against dozens and we had no reason to believe that the numbers would NOT prevail against him…
Don’t get me wrong I thoroughly enjoyed the film, but as a critic… I felt the end wasn’t quite as tight as it could have been if the magic which made the plot (the fantastic beasts) had been the solution – instead of just a solution. If Graves had been exposed because of one of the creatures Newt had… or a potion made from one of them somehow. And why did Newt recognize him anyway? What makes him so special? Does he have a gift that allows him to sense/see illusions (would be useful with all the invisible-ish beasts). Unless it was meant to be a character story with a fantasy setting – in which case it was the perfect solution and all my criticism goes out the window anyway.