The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie franchise is categorically bizarre. An offshoot of the Harry Potter universe (“the Wizarding World," as though no other worlds have wizards), Fantastic Beasts is loosely based on an in-universe magizoology textbook. Somehow, the main character, a magical horse girl, gets caught up in the war between the Wizarding community and Grindelwald, a.k.a. wizard Hitler. The franchise attempts to connect to the original franchise as much as possible, hindering any chance for it to create its own identity. Written by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, the results are a nigh-incomprehensible, bloated, and entirely forgettable set of films.
(I’ll note that this film series is the least of society’s worries when it comes to Rowling—she is transphobic, consistently writing tweets, essays, and novels that are hateful, ignorant bullshit. If you're looking for queer alternatives to the Harry Potter novels, there are plenty of options.)
The Fantastic Beasts films are so forgettable, my friend Patrick Infurna, mere days after seeing the second Fantastic Beasts, challenged anyone who saw the film to name three characters from it, because he certainly could not. This past week, I called Patrick to see what he could remember from the film, now over two years on. I caught him boiling sap in his sugar shack in Vermont.
PATRICK INFURNA: So are you interviewing a few people about this?
ADAM CECIL: No, just you.
PI: Okay, good. I did no research and I truly can’t remember anything about this movie, so it’s all going to be like a dream.
AC: The reason why I wanted to interview you specifically is because I have a very distinct memory of you seeing that film and saying to me, “Gun to your head, name three characters."
PI: Which I can’t.
AC: As a hint, the name of the movie is Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
PI: Wait, is that the one I even saw? I guess it was. So Grindelwald is who I can remember. He’s the anarchist. And then, the kind of weak, main character guy, very scared of everything, it’s like… Phineas or something? Or like… Lyle? Let me think for like, one second. I think I saw it in theaters, right?
AC: I think you did. I roughly remember us talking about it November, December 2018.
PI: I truly can’t remember anything about this movie. The main guy’s name… Cyrus? No, that’s a different Harry Potter world guy.
AC: Sirius, yeah.
PI: So there was another character, a girl. Her name had to be Ann. It took place in like, Victorian England, right?
AC: It took place in 1920s New York, I think. And Paris as well.
PI: It’s coming back to me. I remembered some industry. You’re really catching me in a bad place about a movie I do not remember. When we talked about it, like days after I saw it, I couldn’t even remember the name of the movie. Okay, so final answer for three characters is Grindelwald, uh… Lyle. And Ann.
AC: So, there is no Lyle or Ann as far as I can tell. The main character’s name is Newt Scamander. And then his love interest is named Tina.
PI: Gun to my head, I’m dead, in the scenario that we originally made up.
AC: Do you remember if you’ve seen the other Fantastic Beasts movie?
PI: I don’t even know which Fantastic Beasts movie I saw. Maybe. Really unhelpful. This is worse than you thought it was going to be, isn’t it?
AC: No, this is what I hoped for. Can you give me any sense of what you remember of the plot of this film?
PI: Okay. So Newt Gingrich was some kind of animal breeder, of magic ones. For example, dragon. What was the animal he was most close with? A hedgehog? Am I right?
AC: Yeah, I think there is a hedgehog-type creature who steals coins.
PI: Right. And that grew up to be Sonic, which is another movie. He has a place where he can like, get to different biodomes. Like he can get to the ocean, he can get to the mountains. Oh! There was an eagle, or maybe a griffin. The conflict, or the reason for the conflict, I’m really struggling on. But I remember the evil guy, Grindelwald, who is basically older style Voldemort… what’s he trying to do? He’s not trying to kill the animals, is he? Or is he!? Is he trying to ruin magic or something? Or destroy magic by having his own magic that he uses to take away other people’s magic? Or something like that?
AC: I don’t think that’s true.
PI: So what was his deal, then?
AC: That’s a good question. Some kind of dominance over all magical people.
PI: Was he trying to kill everyone who wasn’t magic?
AC: Strong potential.
PI: Well, this is what I remember. I remember this was a period in my life where I was trying to find the hidden meanings in movies, even ones that weren’t there. And I presented to several trusted people that I believed Grindelwald was an anarchist, and that he was just being painted as an evil person. I was trying to do this with a ton of movies at the time, or with any kind of evil people, like Giovanni from Pokémon. I was saying these people in these franchises are actually not evil, they’re actually like 1920s anarchists and just being painted as evil. But I was quickly given the information from people who actually like the Harry Potter universe that Grindelwald was more like the Adolf Hitler of the magic world. So I had to really dial that theory back quick. It was based in nothing and I barely saw the movie, so. I tried something and it didn’t work out. But then I think I tried to double down on it and say that he was painted as a really bad person because J.K. Rowling is such a centrist and a TERF that she would paint someone who is anarchist as vastly evil. Therefore, even if, in the story, he is evil, it’s because of J.K. Rowling’s perception. Again, I had to dial all this back. I tried to be a guy who could decipher newer-style movies and I botched it. Apparently the evil guy just wants to kill everyone. So I apologize.
AC: You could be right. I honestly could not tell you what Grindelwald’s goal is in the film, and I’m looking at the plot description on Wikipedia.
PI: It’s just pretty hard to break down a movie that I can’t remember, and that I don’t know what it’s about, and that I couldn’t name one character from who wasn’t in the title. And I could only remember one of the creatures. Not a good look.
AC: Would you see Fantastic Beasts 3 in theaters when it comes out? There’s supposed to be a third one. They had to recast Johnny Depp.
PI: Oh! I was going to say earlier, and literally, in my head, I was like, “don’t say something so dumb.” I was going to say, “Is the evil guy Johnny Depp?” Wish I would’ve said that earlier, because I was thinking it the whole time. Johnny Depp just kind of is the same guy in every movie, so I’m picturing Grindelwald as Edward Scissorhands in my head because that’s how much I can’t picture this movie at all. He’s got that kind of vibe. To answer your question, I could see myself seeing it when it comes to Netflix or something and falling asleep to it. I really have to figure out if I saw the second one first. Or if I only saw the second one. I really don’t know.
AC: Well, thank you. Enjoy your time out there in the shack.
PI: I will. I hope I was helpful. I really haven’t felt this dumb in a while.
You can catch Patrick Infurna on Twitter. If you want to hear more of me interviewing Patrick on anarchist politics, watch this early-pandemic video tour of his Animal Crossing island. Patrick endorses Night Water, saying “I open it and I read it every time. Considering how much mental energy it takes me to pay attention to anything, that’s how I know the content is good.”