It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. Six months, in fact. I recently encouraged someone to continue to hang on to their creative outlet, no matter what life struggles and challenges would threaten to drain them, and I couldn’t be a hypocrite about that. So I’m back. And with a doozy of a film.
(SPOILER WARNING FOR THE REST OF THE REVIEW BELOW. WATCH BEFORE YOU READ!)
J.K. Rowling forgets how to write a compelling story and goes full soap opera on her fans with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, doing away with the funny and fantastical for the dark and dour. Following the events of the first Fantastic Beasts film, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes Ministry custody and takes up residence in Paris, where he hopes to ensnare Credence (Ezra Miller), the orphaned Obscurial who is searching for his family. Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) tasks Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), our creature-loving hero, to find and rescue Credence. Newt is reluctant at first as he is currently banned from travelling abroad by the Ministry of Magic, but his New York friends Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) drop by unexpectedly with news that Tina (Katherine Waterston), Newt’s love interest, is in Paris too, and sorely misinformed about his relationship status. On the Ministry’s side of things, Theseus (Callum Turner), Newt’s taller but less quirky brother, and Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), Newt’s old schoolmate and childhood crush, also search for Grindelwald and Credence.
In the second instalment (of a purported five!), the filmmakers seem to forget that they are making a movie for kids and decide to throw in some infanticide, fratricide, and myriad other creepy, horror elements. The plot is also overly complicated and contrived with secret births and half-siblings cropping up constantly and yet, even with this fresh batch of characters, there is a dearth of character development. Newly introduced characters like Theseus, Nagini, and Nicholas Flamel (!) are given essentially zero storylines (one can assume that they will be expanded upon in future films but it is frustrating nonetheless) while pre-existing, canonical characters seem to have been retconned. Queenie pulls a Merope Gaunt on Jacob by enchanting him, even though he is already in love with her, and then makes a shocking about face by joining Grindelwald. Less significantly, Dumbledore is shown teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts even though he is clearly stated to have been the Transfiguration teacher in the Harry Potter books.
Some of these frustrations also extend to the newest additions to the world of magical possibilities. One set piece involves a magical freak show/circus, which begs the question: What could the wizarding populace possibly be astounded by? I mean, THEY HAVE MAGIC! How could anyone believe in the veracity of the ringmaster? I will admit that the Zouwu, the chimeric Chinese beast chained up at the circus, was pretty cute though. Other new magical objects and abilities are introduced, such as Grindelwald’s skull hookah that creates strange hologram-like visuals, and Newt’s spell for reconstructing scenes from the night before, which he uses in order to track down Tina in Paris. These new elements and others seem either unnecessary or reframe the whole magical system in a less well-thought-out or cohesive way (like when Iron Man, who is clearly smarter and stronger than Captain America, fights to a stalemate against his friend in Civil War. It’s nonsensical within the world Marvel has already established but the rules are broken for plot convenience).
The greatest weakness in this over-long and shockingly boring movie, is perhaps the central character. Newt is an exquisitely awkward and not very compelling person. When characters like Grindelwald, Dumbledore, or even Jacob appear, they are a welcome breath of fresh air. Depp’s stormy personal life intrudes upon his distinctly evil character and he doesn’t quite make his mark like Colin Farrell did as the mysterious Graves in the previous film but he is given a fair amount to do. Law, as Young Dumbledore™, does not get nearly enough screen time (or enough flamboyantly cut, purple velvet suits) but his due will surely come when certain developments revealed in the end of the film come into play later. Jacob, the sole source of comic relief, is really shunted to the side in this film and barely gets to do anything but Dan Fogler manages to squeeze in as much charm as he can in those sparse moments.
With disappointing story, pacing, and characterization, this movie leans more towards “crimes” against the J.K. Rowling franchise than it does towards the “fantastic”.
Ratings (out of 5):
Overall Average: 2.7