REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

It was an interesting take… but did it really do its job?

To long-time Harry Potter fans like myself, seeing the wizarding world on screen again is a big pleasure. Listening to the famous Harry Potter anthem always gives me the shivers, and it did so this time when the anthem was played in the new Fantastic Beasts series. The jolt is from the nostalgia of the story of the boy who lived; it is hard to separate the Harry Potter series from this new spin-off that takes place between. In this sense, this movie was highly interesting in showing diversity in characters and location. We have seen more racial diversity in roles not to mention the story happening outside the UK too, in contrast with the Harry Potter series where the wizarding world seemed to be centered around Hogwarts. The scene where the Manhatten bridge was emphasized in the background was not only pretty but symbolized this change. However, there are some points that did not seem right in consideration of the prior series:

  1. Would the wizards, who have their organized ministry, solely depend on an animal to choose their leader? I guess this was necessary to add a reason for Newt to join the adventure and focus more on Fantastic beasts as the title suggests, but this election process was even odder because the reason why the wizarding world is doing that is not fully explored but suggested abruptly. The audience hears that the animal would ‘bow’ to a great soul and thus is used to choose a leader. It sounds a bit weird, and no further details were given or world-building hadn’t been done to make the story more believable.
  2. The existence of an international wizarding organization and a leader seems to be a bit odd-if such a thing existed, why didn’t they intervene when Voldemort threatened peace?

Story-wise, there were also some issues. Firstly, the charm of the characters is weak because it is told, not shown; making it hard for the audience to resonate with them. For example, Albus Dumbledore suddenly praises Newt after he himself did a grand duel with Grindelwald, and says that he couldn’t have defeated Grindelwald if Newt haven’t helped. However, Newt’s brilliance was not shown in this film, except for the time when he danced to a herd of magical lobsters. The appraise seemed a bit sudden, and so was the headmaster’s praise of Mr. Kowalski. Albus Dumbledore insists that he has a good heart, but the audience has left a mystery about why it is so. In general, I feel that too many stories needed to be in the same movie that none of them was developed to a level that would be interesting. Many ideas, such as the wizarding election, Credence’s troubles, and Aberforth’s conflict with Albus were just briefly mentioned and not discussed thoroughly. Characters are suddenly thrown into the story, without any explanation on why they have to be there. However, the exploration is what makes the audience like the character and fall for the story. This movie, in that sense, did not do such a great job. We’ll see how the next episode of the series, which will be sure to be produced considering how the story ended, may try to improve the loose storyline.

PREVIEW: Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

J.K. Rowling’s magical world is hitting the screen again in the State theater. Since the beloved motive series of the boy who lived(Harry Potter) ended on 2011, the legacy of the wizarding world is being continued through another world lead by Eddie Redmane as Newt Scamander. This new series follow a young man who devotes himself to the care of magical animals who happens to find that more life than the animals he is taking care of, in fact, a big part of the wizarding world, might depend on him. While the story is not directly related to the Harry Potter series, it will also intrigue the original Harry Potter fans by unveiling the story of Albus Dumbledore, the wise and mysterious headmaster from the original series, when he didn’t have the long, dragging beard. The role is played by Jude Law in the new series-this gives some hints about the characteristics of the wise man in his young days!
This series kicked off with question mark hovering over the fans of the series as it had a big casting change on one of its main character and villain(?), Grindelwald – the character was starred by Johnny Depp untill the second motive of the series, but will be played by Mads Mikkelsen from this movie. How this change will affect the color of the series; we shall find out soon enough.

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

If I were to summarize my reaction to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in two words, they would be: disappointing and utterly unmagical (oops, I cheated about the two-word rule… kind of like J.K. Rowling did in writing the movie).

I had pretty high expectations for this movie after the first Fantastic Beasts movie, which was filled with beautiful animations of magical creatures within Newt’s briefcase, exciting romances and unexpected friendships, and an engaging, clear narrative. The first movie was an introduction into the series with fun explorations of the relationship between the magical and non-magical communities when Newt’s magical creatures accidentally get released in New York. None of the magic or excitement holds true for the second movie. It has a horribly meandering plot with an excess of characters who are poorly introduced and developed; the focus of the main characters and their relationships doesn’t continue well from the first movie; and, honestly, the whole movie was confusing, badly plotted, and, above all, kind of boring.

Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald starts off with the escape of Grindelwald. Albus Dumbledore, once a close friend of the rising villain, requests that Newt be the one to find Grindelwald, whose main mission is to bring back power to the magical community and have them overtake non-magical peoples. Newt hesitantly agrees, though many different people have dispatched on a mission to track down Grindelwald: Tina, the aurar and Newt’s love interest from the first movie; Credence, the emotionally troubled and morally ambiguous young boy; and, strangely, a completely random new character, the head of a prominent African magical family. All these people have their own convoluted motivations. Either way, by the end of the movie, Grindelwald does present himself to the patched-up and disorientingly written cast of characters; choices must be made and battle lines drawn.

Though the plot sounds promising in theory, its execution was the worst I’ve ever seen of Rowling’s writing. There were too many characters in this movie– Albus Dumbledore, the African auror I’d mentioned, Credence, his new girlfriend Nagini (where did she come from anyway?– there was absolutely no substantial context given for this), Newt’s brother, Newt’s brother’s fiance (both characters who were abruptly and poorly introduced into the mix), and at some point, even Nicholas Flamel (I can’t even comment on how disorienting his appearance was)– all this, I must add, in addition to our four main characters, Jacob, Tina, Queenie, and Newt. None of the characters were developed in the movie, and their relationships even less so.

The biggest problem to the plot was the sudden introduction of new and seemingly tangential information by the third quarter of the movie. It was inorganic and confusing to the audience. More shocking was how important this sudden information was to the end of the movie. Perhaps Rawling was attempting to set the stage for the next few movies, but the attempt was too ambitious– it was a grossly oversized cast of characters, a confusingly patched-up plot, and an unsatisfactory ending. Rowling, I think, works best in prose and novels, where there is ample space to develop all the narrative aspects to their fullest.

Despite having a distaste for this movie, I can still say that I’m too enchanted by the wizarding world to quit consuming Rowling’s media anytime soon. I hope, at least, that the next movie is much, much better than this one.

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them

Let’s make one thing clear. Although I have seen all the Harry Potter movies, and maybe I went to Barnes and Noble for the midnight premiere of books 1-6, I am not a huge Harry Potter fan. To me Harry Potter always seemed a little childish and derivative, like listening to top 40 music. That’s why Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them was such a pleasant surprise.

Newt Scamander arrives in 1926 New York, fresh off an expedition studying and cataloging magical beasts around the world for his book. While he plans to stay only long enough to release a particular creature back into the wild, a run-in with an a No-Maj (American Muggle) leads to a number of events that make the movie run 133 minutes.

8:30 + preview + 133 minutes = 11:15
8:30 + preview + 133 minutes = 11:15

Like all the other Harry Potter movies, FBAWTFT looks gorgeous. Combining wizards with 1920’s America was a fantastic idea and someone should give JK Rowling a high-five for that. It was so much fun to see spells flying inside speak-easy’s and upending Model T’s on the street–I only wish Newt’s travels had taken him to other American cities like Chicago and San Francisco as well.


Every actor fit seamlessly into their roles so well that I didn’t miss the Harry Potter characters one bit. Eddie Redmayne as Newt played the perfect awkward scientist, but it was Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski that stole every scene with his charm and naivety. Unfortunately, the female characters didn’t seem as well hashed out. Queenie Goldstein, one of the two female leads, is literally nothing but an attractive secretary at the American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic. Maybe it was to add the period feel to the movie, but this series deserves better than one-sided female characters.

JK Rowling took the dark elements from the latter half of the Harry Potter series and ramped them up for FBAWTFT. Unhealthy relationships, from a neglected son to child abuse, pepper the central storyline, which also includes the DEATH SENTENCE as a plot device. I enjoyed that JK Rowling decided to write a movie that was for older audiences, but wow the movie gets dark.

At the same time, there are moments of precious comic relief scattered throughout the movie. DC Comics should study this film in terms of how to balance the light and the dark, because FBAWTFT knows how to make the audience laugh in one scene, and then pull those smiles away in the very next scene.

I left with one question on my mind: how does the movie scale up from here? The final “battle” felt almost like the end of a movie series, leaving New York in tatters (a la The Avengers) and at least two surprises. It felt like JK Rowling pulled out all of the stops as the wizards struggled to contain a dark force attacking the city. Will it be possible to make the action more exciting, or will we start to get fatigued after seeing the same spells, the same special effects, and the same CGI-creatures every outing?