Released: 15th November
For most of my life, I’ve been a huge fan of the Harry Potter franchise. I got the first two books from my grandmother for Christmas long ago, just before the third one came out in 1999 (FEEL OLD YET!?) and since then I was that person who had to get the new one on the day it went on sale. I was such a fan that I preordered a copy of the final book and still was in line outside the store before 6am on the day that it went out (Because Australia didn’t do a midnight release) just so that I could get my hands on it. I devoured the last book in 2 days. Every movie I went to see with another one of my grandparent’s, the same one who I mentioned taking to see Christopher Robin a while ago, and we always would go on opening day to see it with a packed theatre and enjoy the absolute glee that came with seeing these books that we loved being brought to life. I was there watching as these major elements of my childhood became reality but when they announced they were doing Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, I wasn’t interested. By the time that movie came out I was in my late 20s and was cynical about so much, I believed it to be nothing but a cheap cash grab created by Warner Brothers because they were desperate to have a steady income since their superhero movies kept turning out to be giant steaming piles of excrement littering the cinematic pavement. Since I knew I would be reviewing the sequel today, last night I decided to finally watch the original Fantastic Beasts movie and I found it to be genuinely delightful. Sure, I was right about it being a cash grab designed to rake in obscene amounts of money from a reputable brand name but at least it tried to be entertaining. It had a charm to it, a warmth that emanated throughout the film that was infectious. It was basically Pokemon but with wizards in it and I was excited to see where they were going to take this story, maybe it was going to be more than just a cheap excuse to slip a hand into my wallet and extract a few bucks.
…so, I’m back to being a cynic again.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald continues from the ending of the previous Fantastic Beasts film with the criminal Grindelwald (Played by Johnny Depp) locked up and ready to be transferred to answer for his crimes in Europe. Since he is a high-security prisoner, almost as though this is a boring convention that everyone and their mother has done, Grindelwald escapes custody and flees to Paris where he attempts to locate Creedence Barebone (Played by Ezra Miller) who is trying to locate his birth mother with the aid of Nagini (Played by Claudia Kim), who he saved from a travelling wizard-circus. The only wizard who could possibly stop Grindelwald is the legendary Albus Dumbledore (Played by Jude Law) but since Albus and Grindelwald are unable to fight each other, Albus convinces Newt Scamander (Played by Eddie Redmayne) to stop the dark wizard’s plan before any harm comes to the non-magic people of the town. Newt, with the aid of his friends Jacob (Played by Dan Fogler), Tina (Played by Katherine Waterston) and Queenie (Played by Alison Sudol) must find Creedence before Grindelwald does or else there is no telling just what might happen.
So if you remember the ending to the first Fantastic Beasts film, you’ll notice that there are two major issues with this plotline that I’ve just laid out before you. The first one is that Jacob shouldn’t remember anything, he walked out into rain laced with a powerful forgetting toxin that was meant to make him forget everything. This was confirmed throughout the ending where he went back to a normal life and didn’t seem to be aware of anything… well, turns out, PSYCHE! He remembered anything because of a throwaway one sentence explanation that is about 12 kinds of stupid and instantly invalidates the emotional power of that ending, so that’s fun.
The second issue is that Creedence is dead, or at least he seemed very dead (Exploding in a giant sonic boom of magic and angry clouds makes you pretty dead right?) and therefore shouldn’t be in this movie… again, PSYCHE! he wasn’t quite dead, he got better, and now he’s running off with a woman who will eventually turn into the right hand of the dark lord because, clearly, Nagini was always a woman and not a familiar that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had trained to perfection. Everything from the first movie in this series basically doesn’t matter. The events of the last movie should keep Newt from travelling to Paris, except he does it anyway and he gets away with it. The first movie explains how the characters know each other but the powerful final act, where the literal heart and soul of that original film reached a brutal crescendo, is basically nullified within about 15 minutes of this film starting with no decent explanation. The only upside of this poor set of setup decisions is it means we get to have the two castmembers back that probably shouldn’t be back already, all at the expense of a coherent narrative which seems like a pretty big cost.
A lack of cohesion is a running issue throughout the film. It feels like we’re skimming through the setup for future stories without caring about the one that we’re involved in. Events happen purely to acknowledge that this is still related to the much more well-known series, but other than that they have no purpose. There’s an entire sequence that happens at a magical circus where wizards go and see a show filled with magical creatures… WIZARDS go to this show, the kind of people who already know how this kind of thing might work and thus shouldn’t be needing to be shocked by the weird oddities. It’d be like if we saw a travelling freak show filled with accountants, there’s nothing shocking there. This little bit of weirdness only exists to introduce Nagini, a character we all know as the snake that Neville Longbottom decapitated during the great fight at Hogwarts. That’s the only reason this story element exists, to give a human analogue to the villain’s pet snake… for the record, she does nothing of value in this film. Nothing, she could’ve been replaced with a hat stand and you’d get the same exact plot but at least you’d have a place to put your hat. Maybe she’ll serve a purpose in the sequels, but she has none here… I mean, other than to fix the “It’s basically nothing but white people” issue that these films have had in the past. That’s fine but can she have a character trait other than “Inhales oxygen”?
Speaking of characterless wastes of time, let’s talk about Grindelwald who is basically there to try and be Voldemort but less intimidating. Partially because he looks like what would’ve happened if Billy Idol decided to age 85 years and stop caring about his looks, mostly because he’s a bland antagonist who is only a threat because the plot demands that he be one. He has exactly one good moment right at the end when he actually seems like a threat, but the rest of the time it feels like he’s not even trying. Say what you will about Ralph Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named with his scenery-chewing performance, it was intense and endlessly watchable and you could see why everyone would be scared by him. Grindelwald is like a cross between Bugs Bunny and a piece of toast, he has a few moments of comedy here and there but in general, he’s burnt out and two dimensional. Oh, also he’s played by Johnny Depp and that right there is enough reason to be done with him.
Speaking of things that they should’ve worked on more, let’s talk about how Dumbledore is canonically gay and how the way they show this is about as basic as I expected. Dumbledore was revealed to be a gay wizard in 2007, AFTER the final book was released. This little factoid was dropped on us by JK Rowling who clearly was trying to go for “It wasn’t relevant so we never mentioned it”, but most people see it as someone going “Oh damn, I didn’t put any gay people in this story… uh… THIS one was gay all along but you didn’t know about it because he’s an old teacher and old teachers don’t talk about that stuff”. So when it was announced we were going to be seeing young Dumbledore in the new movie there was a lot of people who hoped that they were going to address the pink elephant in the room… so, you wanna know how they do it? Cos it’s special, it’s delightful, it’s… it’s…. he looks in the Mirror of Erised and sees Grindelwald. That’s it. The same mirror that he looked into in the first book of the Harry Potter series and stated that he saw himself holding a pair of socks. The same mirror that JK Rowling said he saw his family in… that mirror NOW shows Grindelwald and Dumbledore holding hands in a way that’s identical to how I held my brother’s hand when he was younger and we didn’t want him running away. To make this as clear as I can, if JK Rowling had not explicitly stated that Dumbledore was gay before now, there is no real way to know it in the text of this movie. What’s there is so subtle that without that context, it’s nothing and that context is some annoying post-publishing world building that had no impact on the character up to that point. It’s like if George R.R. Martin told us that Jon Snow was Algerian the entire time… doesn’t change a damn thing about what happened before, why the hell would he be bringing it up now.
This film is so cluttered that you honestly forget that it’s meant to be about Newt Scamander and his deep love of animals… but, turns out, it’s not. This series might be called Fantastic Beasts, but it should be called “Are You My Mommy?” because the entire story really revolves around Creedence. He’s the main protagonist that keeps the story going, he’s the one with the actual emotionally resonant plotline about an abusive adoptive mother who took him in after his birth mother died. He’s the one who we’re meant to sympathise with, which makes him exploding at the end of the last film such a weird choice. He’s played perfectly by Ezra Miller who makes him weird and creepy and fascinating, but we keep leaving him because for some reason this franchise thinks we need to follow Newt and we don’t. Newt doesn’t have any actual impact on the story, he’s just trying to play catchup while the actual plot is being pushed by Creedence (Who has finally gotten that pesky ‘turning into a bundle of scary smoke’ problem under control) who is a much more interesting character. Newt is just there, he’s played well and get’s some cute moments but, unlike the last film where he was an active participant in what was going on, here he’s just walking around and being part of the scene because they paid Eddie Redmayne to sign up for this franchise so they have to get their money’s worth out of him.
The biggest thing this film does well is the same thing that all of these movies do well, visuals. This film is, for the most part, visually amazing. The creature designs are amazing and scenes of people doing magic do feel genuinely magical. Even the opening scene, where a bunch of people wearing black in a black carriage driven by black winged creatures at night are chased around by people on dark brooms wearing black cloaks, is visually impressive and plays with light and shadows in a way that catches the eye. It looks how I expect a film in this franchise to look and pulls no surprises out of the bag. I expected it to look good, it looks good, congratulations on getting a thing right that you’ve gotten right most of the time. You get a sticker.
To say this film is bad would be an overstatement, it’s just a massive disappointment. It ignores old plot-lines, badly justifies ones from the book series it’s trying desperately to link up with, suffers from a lack of cohesion and a boring excuse of an antagonist. It’s saving grace is the visuals created by the director are as good as they have ever been and the performances by most of the cast are OK. If you’re a completionist then sure, fine, go see it I guess but I’d just wait till the next one when I’m sure they’ll reveal that everything that happened at the end of this one was also meaningless. Seems like that’s how this series is going to work.
Did you enjoy this film? What Harry Potter film is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.
Also yes, it’s a new layout. WordPress updated the editor so I have to adjust for that.