(Plot details for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them will be discussed in depth, so spoilers alert. You’ve been warned.)
There may be hardcore fans who love the latest installment in the Harry Potter franchise, but to me, this movie is rather underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a terrible movie by any standards, but it certainly felt rather disappointing.
For me, the major problem of this movie is what I’d call the ‘likability factor’ of the good guys. Generally, people watch a good-versus-evil movie to root for the good guys. There might be some notable exception where the villain gets a lot of sympathy and fans (e.g. Loki, from Marvel’s Thor movie), but for most purposes, you’d want the audience to cheer the protagonist on. Look, I am not saying that the good guys need to be perfect. I am just saying that the audience needs to at least not hate the good guys, especially in relation to the bad guys. I feel that this is the major problem in this movie.
This is going to be a very long post, because I feel that there are plenty of problems with the good guys. Here, I will focus on Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA). One could argue that they are not very important characters, but I beg to disagree; MACUSA’s intervention and decisions drove a lot of the plot developments.
On a very surface level, the good guys are Newt Scarmander (Eddie Redmayne) and his friends, Tina and Queenie Goldstein and Jacob Kowalski. On the opposing side of this film are Gindelwald (Johnny Depp), Mr. Graves (Colin Farrell), and the Second Salemers headed by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton). ‘What about the MACUSA?’ you may ask. Good question; that brings me to the main point.
On the whole, MACUSA seemed to be the good guys mostly because they fight against Grindelwald, who we knew from the Harry Potter series to be a major villain. Also, they were supposed to uphold justice and protect the wizarding world from the No-Majs (Muggles, if you insist). Yet, for some reason, they behave like the villain in the whole movie.
Now, I watched this movie twice, and I can’t tell you how angry MACUSA made me feel. One of the first scenes we get of MACUSA was when Tina dragged Newt to the headquarters, interrupting an important discussion in the process. Here, we learnt that Tina was actually grounded and assigned to menial tasks. This by itself wasn’t terrible, but it was what happened next that gave me an intense dislike of MACUSA.
The next time we see MACUSA was after Senator Shaw was murdered, when Tina turned in the suitcase containing Newt and Jacob. Tina told everyone in attendance that Newt had let some creatures loose, which may or may not account for the attacks on the city. The following is roughly the exchange between Tina and Piquery, the
scumbag President of MACUSA (summarised to focus on the important point).
Tina:Yesterday, a wizard entered New York with a case. A case full of magical creatures. And unfortunately, some have escaped.
Piquery: You’ve known for twenty-four hours that an unregistered wizard set magical beasts loose in New York. (Piquery then ordered the good guys to be arrested.)
Look, this is ridiculous on so many levels. For fuck’s sake, Tina tried to tell you guys about Newt the day before, and you remember how that went? She was dismissed! By you, Piquery! And now, Tina was punished for doing the right thing and turning Newt in. Come on, if anything, that woman deserves a pat on her shoulder; regardless of her motivations and her status, she was at least attempting to fix the problem. In contrast, what was MACUSA’s reaction to the attacks? Talk. Lots of talking. We have seen them twice now, and they were just endlessly talking about the problem.
Moments later, we were treated to an interrogation scene that ended with Graves sentencing Newt and Tina to death. Yes, to death, even for Tina, whose ‘crime’ was uh, collaborating with Newt? Did no one wonder why she turned Newt in if she was working with him? At this point, is anyone already horrified by MACUSA? One guy, just one guy… can hand out a death sentence, effective immediately. There was no fair trial, no jury system or a panel, or the need for anyone else’s approval, or a plea bargain or an appeal; it was just ‘oh, you caused this problem… now, die’.
I get that Graves is the bad guy, and he has every motivation to have Newt and Tina executed, but the fact that no one questioned his orders meant that this sort of things happened all. the. bloody. time. Worse, we found out that Graves was actually Grindelwald, so who knows how many good witches and wizards have been wrongfully sentenced to death?
Now, the most important part of all: the epic final battle. On one side, we have the emotionally unstable Credence, who caused all the destruction. We have Graves trying to persuade him to join his cause, while Tina and Newt were trying to calm him down. MACUSA appeared when Tina had Credence listening to her. Note that at this point, Credence showed no indication of attacking. What did MACUSA do? They murdered him! They murdered the poor guy!
Seriously, of all the things they could have done, they killed him. What, have they not heard of negotiation? Arrest? Incapacitation? Killing him when he was no longer posing a threat is equivalent to shooting a surrendering criminal, and if that doesn’t make you the bad guy, I don’t know what else would. Graves was enraged, of course, but at that moment, he was the one I sided with. Sure, Graves has ulterior motives for keeping Credence alive, but hey, anyone remembered how Credence got to this state? (Psst, it was Mary Lou’s abuse, and Graves’ betrayal). In other words, he could not help becoming the monster that he became. I don’t know about anyone else but seems like he needed help instead of a dose of murder.
For most moviegoers, when we watch a movie like this, we want to see the good guys win, and the bad guys get their comeuppance. This is pretty much what we get in the movie, with Grindelwald/Mr. Graves getting captured and the Second Salemers (at least the spine of the group) destroyed. But MACUSA got away with everything, particularly Piquery. There was no humility or guilt in her tone, despite the fact that:
- She let Grindelwald into her organisation for possibly… months, if not years. After all, Graves had a lot of power in his hands and was of a very high standing in MACUSA.
- Tina and Newt were almost executed because of her bad judgement. The very least she could do was to admit that she was wrong. But nope, doesn’t seem like it.
- She did not remotely feel guilty for giving the order to kill Credence. If anything, she appeared a little… proud.
- If it wasn’t for Newt and his convenient deus ex machina potion and beast, the wizarding community would have been in serious danger. Where’s the ‘thank you’?
At this point, I am completely baffled. Why does any of the good guys still want to be linked to MACUSA? That pisses me off so much. Doesn’t anyone have the guts to tell Piquery off? I would have said, ‘Hey, woman, you have been wrong so many times, I wouldn’t even put you in charge of a water tank. You don’t get to call the shots when you fucked up so badly.’
We were later told that Tina got her old job back, and she seemed happy, but why? Tina went against Mary Lou because she abused Credence, but she is alright with MACUSA murdering him? Where is the outrage?
People compare MACUSA to real life government agencies, but there’s a reason why we sometimes think of the CIA and FBI and other enforcement agencies with disdain. They are not the good guys in a long shot, and we get horrified when they get away with doing unethical things. This is bad enough in real life, but it enrages the fuck out of me when it happens in a movie with magical beasts too.
And worse, none of the good guys seemed to care.