Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to FInd Them; no room left for a ...

I’ve managed not to consume any Potterverse materials up until now. Not out of any particular antipathy to the work of the world’s richest author. It’s just that it would be a tonne of work to read all the books and watch all the movies, and they’ve been so culturally prevalent since I got back to Ireland and points north that it didn’t feel like I needed to do more than let it all wash past me. Like pretty much anyone with an internet connection, I’m broadly aware of Snape and Dumbledore and muggles and what-all, and nothing about any of it has left me feeling that I need more than the ability to recognise that someone else is now talking about the whole Potter thing, smile at the bit which is obviously supposed to be hilarious, and carry on with my life. Perhaps I’m missing out, but there’s a big world of books out there and time is limited. Millions of other people are reading those books; I think I can leave that job to them and get on with reading books which millions of people should be reading but unaccountably aren’t.

Still, this frigid week there was pretty much nothing going on at the cinema other than Fantastic Beasts, and it’s not like I’m actively opposed to that stuff. So I put my head round the door of the Potter-verse, as it were, and found myself about as underwhelmed as I thought I might be. There’s magic. There’s beasts. There’s special effects. There’s a peril all set to destroy New York, as bloody usual. There’s Eddie Redmayne, still on double secret super probation after this, where his performance was so feyly bonkers that I left out mentioning it for fear that my fingers would melt. There’s Ron Perlman, because why not? And a bunch of folks I’d never seen before, who I assumed were the young kids who’d sold their next ten years to the franchise because they wanted to be super-rich, together with a bunch of folks I had seen before, who I assumed - correctly - would get killed by the end of the movie to give it some kind of emotional stakes. Ta-ta Samantha Morton and Colin Farrell, I know you’ve got better things to do, or at least I hope you do. And hi there Johnny Depp, who has a blink and you’ll miss it cameo right at the end which might even mean that we’re finally going to be spared any more Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

How does it all look? It looks like someone wedged a bunch of magic into an expertly realised version of Depression-era New York, which is to say sepia with moments of way too much CGI. The cast give it their best shot, which is to say the best shot you can give things when it’s all kind of bollocks and everyone knows it. There are moments of real power; when Porpentina almost gets offed, it’s quite affecting, and also throws in the single best line in the movie “Don’t panic!” “What do you suggest I do instead?” I’ll ‘ave that, I will.

There are going to be four more of these movies, covering a span of 20 years and ending with the end of WWII, and a bit of me really wants to see just what that might do. Not a very big bit, I have to admit, and it’s drowned out by the much bigger bit which figures that it won’t do much that’s any real use, since these are all prequels and nothing can happen to disrupt future history. 

And it was mulling on that which got me grumping about the subtext of all these movies. Just like superhero movies, it’s always the same narrative; there’s a big crowd of ordinary people and their elected representatives, who are just the worst, and there’s a little gang of wonder-children, who are just the best. And they’re just the best not because they’ve really worked hard or made a useful difference to the world, or done anything for other people, but because they were born talented. Or rich. Or rich and talented. But no-one appreciates their talents and the world is against them, and they have to hide their talents and keep the mob at bay. And in theory their talents could make everything so much better, but in practice they just wreck everything in squabbles with other badder talents, and in the end either everything is in ruins or it’s the same old status quo; nothing ever gets any better. Stop me if any of this reminds you of anything which has happened in the last month.

And I’m getting tired of this approach; not just weary with the reliance on just one damn story, but with the way in which a whole generation of people are growing up with this story being drummed into them from every side; the elite are wonderful victims of the faceless mob, and politicians and bureaucrats are all scoundrels who either incite the mob or pander to them. And really, I don’t care how much money JK Rowling is giving to charities off the back of the profits on this; it’s time she started telling a new story.

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