'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald' Spoiler Review
When the first Fantastic Beasts movie came out, I remember seeing a reviewer draw a comparison between that story and the one of The Cursed Child that I very much agreed with. He said that Fantastic Beasts had the right idea by setting its story in a past somewhat distant from the Harry Potter series, in a different country and not involving any of the main series' cast apart from that Dumbledore reference, whereas Cursed Child had run right into all the continuity problems that tend to arise when you make a sequel or prequel to a well established franchise and its characters.
Well it turns out they didn't realise that advantage because it only took two years for them to take the exact same road as The Cursed Child, Star Wars and The Hobbit in trying to tie all of the things you remember into a new story, just to make the whole universe more interconnected, and incidently, messier.
Yes, as you would probably expect if you have seen this movie or any reviews of it prior to reading this, I also am not very impressed with it. While the charm of this universe will never go away, at least for me I'm sure, it does not make me overlook things that I wasn't that much of a fan of, not only with the storytelling (although particularly with the storytelling), but also with the direction of the movie at times. I'll cover all of these points later but suffice it to say for now that while good potential exists in this franchise, many decisions made in this movie severely jeopardized my enjoyment while watching and may do so when I watch subsequent installments.
Briefly covering my thoughts on how the film looked and how it was directed, i believe it was a slight step down from last time, but still competent. The colours look more muted this time around and it doesn't lend itself too well to the wonders of magic that should be on display or to the locations themselves, particularly the city of Paris which looks pretty bleak. The best looking sets are the French Ministry of Magic and the Lestrange tomb, which I suppose are the most important to get right, but still i would have appreciated a movie and an adventure that looked more vibrant in its visuals.
The special effects with the creatures were good, once again, no complaints, despite their reduced roles in the story, and the spells look really spectacular. The final showdown has some incredible visuals regarding the spells that are cast and it is gorgeous to look at.
However, two things that annoyed me: in the opening scene when Grindelwald escapes, there are a lot of quick cuts and jumps of the camera around the coach which makes it hard to understand what's going on. This is magnified by the fact that the scene takes place at night, in the sky, with rain. I just think it could have looked much cooler if it wasn't so jumpy. And second, there are a lot of close-up shots of the characters looking directly at the camera in dialogue scenes and it looks really weird, it took me out of the movie immediately. I understand the appeal of having POV shots of the action so that we can see what the characters are seeing in the faces of other characters, but it really doesn't work and I think they should just not do it in future installments.
So having gone over my general feelings, not saying basically anything about the plot, I'll now fully dive into the story points and the characters and give you my thoughts on both. I would give a bit of context to the plot but this is just way too complicated, and if you are here you have probably already seen the movie so I won't bother summarizing it.
Starting with the opening of Grindelwald's escape, I really liked it. Despite my issues with the camera work and direction, I thoroughly enjoyed it and that's mostly due to the powerful presence of Grindelwald in the scene. He comes across as a force to be reckoned with, not only in power but in character and he instantly established himself as a worthy rival to Voldemort, but different in many ways. Although, I would have appreciated knowing how Abernathy went from where he was in the first movie to now giving up his tongue for Grindelwald's cause. Didn't like his facial expressions in the rest of the film either.
Addressing the elephant in the room now rather than later, I know many people didn't enjoy Johnny Depp being chosen to play Gellert Grindelwald, others don't like his look, and others don't like his portrayal of the character in both films so far, but honestly I appreciated him in the role throughout. I think he looks menacing but charming, as Johnny Depp usually does and I find this role to be one that he actually takes seriously which I am very much thankful for. He didn't have much to do in the movie (but then again no one did), but what he did do I liked, this scene and his speech at the end are two highlights in my opinion.
Looking at the story of our four leads I can say that the plot did not serve their characters at all, and only made them look weirder and kind of mean for Newt, helpless for Jacob, insane and obcessive for Queenie and useless for Tina. The main thing that hinders their development, and in reality the quality of the whole movie is that there is too much going on with too many people. The subplot with Yusuf Kama and the Lestrange red herring with Credence, Nagini and Nicolas Flamel's presence in this movie all pull the focus from these characters and their relationships and that shouldn't be the case. Addressing Newt first, I still think he can work as a lead but I think the writers should pull the focus more on him and write his character better. His relationship with Tina can be the best one and maybe it should be the only one, but he should be made more normally awkward and less weird awkward because I think it makes him less relatable. Shy normal people do exist and they can be portrayed as such without becoming Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.
After Newt, Queenie is the main character that most suffers from not enough time spent on establishing and developing her motivations and character. And with her it's even less excusable. Queenie's character didn't have to do a 180 that comes out of nowhere in this movie, there are three more to go. If they want her to go bad, do it gradually because here it felt forced as hell in every scene. As soon as she walked in on Newt with an enchanted Jacob I could no longer believe I was watching the same character from the first movie and her justifications for it are not credible at all. She just became crazy between movies for no reason and turned to Grindelwald's side to apparently be with Jacob, a Muggle, even though Grindelwald's plan is, by his own admission, to establish wizards as a dominant elite over Muggles. No logic to be found there.
Tina, in turn, is left mostly abandoned in terms of character, not being anything besides a misinformed love interest for Newt and acting as an exposition device for the Lestrange/Yusuf Kama mystery. Ultimately nothing is really done with her. Her sister leaves with Grindelwald at the end of the movie and they have no scenes together prior to that moment. And Jacob just became a victim of this whole mess becoming a side kick to Newt and without him the story would have almost not changed at all.
The story really just feels like a bunch of separate ping pong balls with no string to tie them or the characters together. We follow Newt and Jacob on one end, then Queenie on another, then Tina for awhile on another, then Credence on another, then Dumbledore with Leta and Theseus on another and then Grindelwald. This makes interconnections difficult and the focus split with little relatability with the characters. There is no journey for anyone in this with the exception being that Newt finally takes a side and hugs his very-nice-from-the-start brother at the end and Queenie goes from a loving and querky character in the first movie to a manipulative, gullible and, as Jacob says, crazy witch. Not the most satisfying of character arcs in my opinion. This movie severely mistreated its version of the Golden Trio both in terms of screen time and character growth.
I did like the characters of Theseus and Leta quite a bit though. Both were very likable and well portrayed. Despite making me wonder why Newt doesn't like his brother when he is nothing but a good brother the entire movie, and Leta's very bizarre and nonsensical story about Corvus Lestrange, I approve both of their entrances to this franchise at least. I just wish JK had stopped there instead of adding Nagini, Nicolas, Yusuf and Vinda Rosier. And I also kinda wish Leta was kept around. Her death wasn't bad but it could have packed a bigger punch if they had held on to that until later. I do wonder what they'll do with Theseus now, but it could be cool so I'll be hopeful.
Now onto Dumbledore, one of the biggest points of discussion with this movie. Again, like with Grindelwald, I can't praise Jude Law's acting that much because he isn't given much to do but what he does is good and certainly reminiscent of the Dumbledore we remember. His presence in the movie is not that big, as it was to be expected and I think that is going to progressively be a problem. One of the biggest drawbacks to this being a five movie franchise is that Dumbledore and our characters have to go on with this back and forth for almost twenty more years and three movies until Dumbie finally takes on Grindelwald in 1945, and to make that convincing, engaging or excusable is a very very difficult thing, at least for me.
The scenes in Hogwarts were very good, both flashbacks and present day, they might have been some of the best moments in the movie which speaks to how unengaging they made Paris in this story.
Although, Professor McGonnagall? Really? You better clear it up on whether that was her mother, or her aunt or whatever JK, cause us fans are not gonna let that go and it seems sloppy. And that's not the only instance where an aspect of this movie breaks established rules and plot points of this universe. Other things like magic happening in Paris with no explanation as to how Muggles can't see it, when that was such a big plot point in the last movie, and Credence's survival of the ending of the first movie are events that just are barely or never questioned and proof as to how things were just thrown into this movie with the hope that we wouldn't notice how nonsensical they were.
But getting back to Dumbledore and Grindelwald, the blood pact is interesting in its nature and it provides a more reasonable justification to support what I assume will be a passive Dumbledore for the next two movies. However, again, it breaks the established notion that Dumbledore didn't fight Grindelwald because he was afraid of the latter revealing horrible truths about Ariana's death and it also breaks the depth that gave to Dumbledore's character.
While it is hard for Dumbledore to make excuses for 20 years, making a MacGuffin like the blood pact warranted, I honestly don't know what should be done with Dumbledore now. However I think something in the middle like what was done here is not a good idea. Either write him off until the end or give him a more prominent role.
Finally, as for Credence and the twist at the end. I don't like parenthood related motivations. They are incredibly soap operish to me and they rarely pay off in a satisfying way. Whether the character ends up being related to someone important or not is indifferent because the mistake is making a big deal about parentage in the first place.
In this case mostly because, once again, it contradicts so much about what was already established and settled about the Dumbledore family in a way that is probably very convoluted and unfulfilling to be worth the twist. If it's a spawn of Ariana's Obscurus or whatever, I don't see myself being satisfied, if it's an illegitimate son of Percival's while he was in Askaban, same thing, if Grindelwald was lying then I'll be really angry that they ended this movie with that. In the end, I don't see a good way out of this twist, and I don't believe it is that interesting of a twist to be worth it. Dumbledore already has two siblings he let down, he doesn't need a third.
Not to mention that Grindelwald suddenly has substancial background research done on Credence's origins including his real name when in the first movie he didn't even know that Credence was the Obscurus. Ultimately, the focus on Credence's parentage should not have been handled like this. Characters need motivations and Credence's was to find out about his origins. However maybe it should have been something else, because I don't see a way in which a big reveal about his parents could have been relevant or satisfying to fans and audiences in general, and as we can see here, it wasn't.
All in all, I'm left somewhat shaken after seeing this movie, and unsure about the future of this franchise. It's premature and maybe wrong to doom-say a series of five movies after seeing only two, but I really can't see satisfying ways to fix the mistakes I saw being made here, as they are quite crucial to this story. As for this movie what I'll conclude is a summary of what I have been saying. It was a muddled, confusing, unengaging continuation to the story that unfortunately gave no interesting continuations to the main characters by trying to do too much at once. No one character is done justice in this movie and neither are the twists and turns the film throws at the audience. It still feels like the Wizarding World in look and concepts and there are good moments peppered throughout, but it also feels like a book that wasn't properly adapted into a movie.
If it is true that JK has complete creative control over this, then I have to agree with the now widespread belief that some oversight is warranted to allow her ideas to make the transition into structured movie narratives properly. And also, some oversight on whether the story stays true to the established world continuity or not, because the driving force behind this franchise's success are the long time fans. If we are not on board, then I doubt many more people will. I just hope they remember that for the next one.
That concludes my thoughts on The Crimes of Grindelwald. If you would like to share your own, leave your thoughts in the comments and consider checking out my other articles on the Wizarding World. As always, thank you for reading.