The Divergent trilogy debuted in the spring of 2014 at the height of the YA dystopian movie craze. The movie, featuring a black-leather-clad teenage girl (Shailene Woodley, “Big Little Lies”) leading the vanguard of a social revolution, had widespread popularity despite the lackluster critical reception. However, despite the inclusion of a brooding, emotionally closed-off love interest named after a number (Theo James, “Allegiant”) and a calculating brother in Ansel Elgort (“West Side Story”) — who had the honor of playing both Woodley’s love interest and brother in different movies released in the same year — the franchise is most notable for its rapid decline in popularity.
The Divergent trilogy planned for four movies and even titled its third movie as part one of two. But the public appetite for fictionalized social change accompanied by intra-movie incest was on the rocks. Due to the dismal response to the third movie, the production company decided against producing “Allegiant Part II.” A mercy killing. With a fairly entertaining first movie and unremarkable sequels, the actors, cast, crew and audience disbanded.
To this day, the Divergent trilogy stands out as a successful case study in corporate reality checks. The heads of the franchise felt the public mood (ambivalent), saw the money to be made (mediocre) and condemned the venture. What could have been an embarrassing four movie money-sink franchise became a slightly cheaper, forgotten 2010s relic. The Divergent trilogy’s trajectory gives me hope for Fantastic Beasts. I have hope that Warner Brothers may let Harry Potter fans (past and present) and appreciators of coherent films let out a collective sigh of relief by prematurely slaying the five-movie snake that is Fantastic Beasts.
Already, the evidence seems to be pointing to the desolation of the franchise. The release of the third Fantastic Beasts movie is upon us, but the press coverage has been abysmal. Compared to previous Potter movies, which saw fans lining up 24 hours in advance, the Fantastic Beasts series’ lackluster buzz is particularly unfortunate. Even discounting the transphobic comments by JK Rowling, the film is rampant with poor pacing and racist tropes.
So just as Voldemort split up his soul into seven parts, here are seven harbingers of Fantastic Beasts demise. Seven reasons to SKIP the Fantastic Beasts movie coming out this April (and any subsequent iterations):
- Fantastic Beasts plays into racist tropes and is riddled with cultural insensitivity. Somehow multiple people in the Fantastic Beasts writer’s room signed off on making one of the only Asian witches in the Harry Potter franchise embody the racist trope of the Dragon Lady — an Asian woman who is mysterious, seductive and deceitful. Nagini (Claudia Kim) is an Asian woman, supposedly inflicted with a Southeast Asian blood curse (but played by an East Asian woman) that makes her transform into a serpent. Claudia Kim does admirably, but her talent is overshadowed by poor writer’s room choices.
The Harry Potter mythos including Kim’s character Nagini makes the decision more egregious. Are you telling me that Tom Riddle, a white British man, took an Asian woman rendered mute by animal transformation (another trope), made her his snake familiar and then proceeded to inject HIS SOUL INTO HER BODY in a colonialism pantomime? Unacceptable. At best, Nagini joins a legion of Hollywood culturally offensive faux paus. But at worst, Nagini exemplifies centuries of racism, colorism, colonialism and violation that makes Fantastic Beasts almost unwatchable.
One year past the anniversary of the Atlanta Spa Shootings, I cannot condone Fantastic Beasts’ carelessness toward Asian Women and their bodies. I don’t believe that there is a way you can watch this film franchise and not leave the movie theater incensed.
- Zoë Kravitz is no longer in the franchise. Fantastic Beasts killed Zoë Kravitz’s character Leta Lestrange in movie two with little chance of her playing a substantive role in future films. Imagine having Zoë Kravitz — fantastic, talented — on contract and then giving her zero substantive lines and a confounded storyline where Johnny Depp kills her mid-sentence with CGI wizard fire.
- Watching “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” encourages more mediocre Fantastic Beasts movies. There can be no ethical consumption under capitalism, but we should feel empowered to withhold money and not reward poor writing. Collectively, we can create change. Take heart from Divergent. Bottom-up, grassroots change is possible.
- If you want a developed, intricate queer relationship — I promise that you will not find it in Fantastic Beasts. Dumbledore and Grindelwald (two men from the main Harry Potter series) have an ambiguous off-screen relationship that J.K. Rowling declared romantic post-publication of the original book series. Many hoped that their relationship would get more fleshed out in Fantastic Beasts, but considering how the third movie was able to cut all of the dialogue referencing their romantic past (six seconds worth) without substantial editing, the franchise has demonstrated its inability to deliver in a satisfying way. It is a poor, unfortunate day when we rely on J.K. Rowling for quality queer representation. Fans hoping to see respectful and compelling representation will be better suited to look elsewhere.
- Fantastic Beasts is an unnecessary “Magical” World War II movie franchise. Fantastic Beasts is presently set during the late 1930s. In an interview talking about the third movie, Dan Fogler (“Walking Dead”), who plays Jacob, says, “(the third movie’s through-line) is the build up to World War II,” implying that later Fantastic Beasts movies will take place during World War II. However, the weighty issues of history are inextricable from the fantasy fluff. “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” has been criticized for “misus(ing) Holocaust imagery.” Other publications have also articulated the issues inherent when Fantastic Beasts tries to enmesh painful history with a commercial fantasy franchise.
- Instead of watching Fantastic Beasts on opening weekend, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” will also be playing at the Michigan Theater. A24’s “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (“Swiss Army Man”), stars Michelle Yeoh (“Crazy Rich Asians”). Rave reviews suggest that the movie and Yeoh’s performance as her character responds to an interdimensional rupture in the multiverse is not one to miss.
- The third Fantastic Beasts movie is 143 minutes long. Instead of using your finals study break to watch what is most likely another over-budgeted film, consider going to bed earlier.
Daily Arts Writer Elizabeth Yoon can be reached at email@example.com.