FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD review

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For my reviews of the rest of the franchise, click the following links:

I can hear the screaming from here.

Quick disclaimer. I was not able to finish my Harry Potter marathon prior to this film’s release and due to the other sequels, remakes, and what have you that are coming out, I’m likely not going to finish watching them until the third Fantastic Beasts movie. Because of the Woolsey Fire in southern California where I live, I fell behind on my reviews again and will likely fall behind on the ones released this week, as many of next week’s movies seem to be getting early releases. We’ll see what happens. Point is, no Deathly Hallows reviews for another two years.

My relationship with the Harry Potter franchise, for those of you who haven’t read my reviews, is a love-hate type thing. When I was a kid, I loved these movies. Hell, I watched them with my mom. So no one can say that I didn’t grow up with the movies. I most certainly did. But now that I’ve developed a certain taste in movies, the Harry Potter films don’t quite hold up like they used to. I see too many of the flaws and they bother me relentlessly. I appreciate the world-building and the wonderful casting of choice actors, but the stories themselves and the characters that are carrying us through them are not especially great. I want to be into them a lot more than I am.

The first Fantastic Beasts was an opportunity to change things up. Explore the world and see more than just Hogwarts and the world we’ve already seen. Early on, I think it was revealed that each new Beasts movie would take place in a different country. This had me genuinely excited. And that the first movie takes place in America, hell yeah! But… well, my review is up there for you to read. Point is, I got some of what I wanted, but I wanted a more mature story with more interesting characters to follow and… I only got good supporting characters, not main ones. Plus, this build-up to a war between muggles and the wizarding world only to never happen… hugely disappointing. But then again, there’s going to be, like, five of these, so there’s still hope. I want to see wands versus tommy guns, damn it!

The story looks like Grindelwald escapes custody and it’s up to a young Dumbledore and Newt to save the day, and somehow Nicolas Flamel factors in.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Eddie Redmayne (EARLY MAN [2018], THE DANISH GIRL [2015], and the upcoming THE AERONAUTS [2019]), Johnny Depp (LONDON FIELDS [2018], ORIENT EXPRESS [2017], YOGA HOSERS [2016], BLACK MASS [2015], CORPSE BRIDE [2005], and the upcoming RICHARD SAYS GOODBYE [2019]), Jude Law (KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD [2017], SPY [2015], SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS [2011], SHERLOCK HOLMES [2009], and upcoming films VOX LUX [2018] and THE RHYTHM SECTION [2019]), Katherine Waterson (MID90S [2018], ALIEN: COVENANT [2017], and the upcoming AMUNDSEN [2019]), and Zoë Kravitz (KIN [2018], LEGO BATMAN [2017], ALLEGIANT [2016], MAD MAX: FURY ROAD [2015], X-MEN: FIRST CLASS [2011], and the upcoming VIENA AND THE FANTOMES [2018]).

In support, we have Dan Fogler (KUNG FU PANDA [2008]), Alison Sudol (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and the upcoming THE LAST FULL MEASURE [2019]), Ezra Miller (JUSTICE LEAGUE [2017], SUICIDE SQUAD [2016], TRAINWRECK [2015], and the upcoming FLASHPOINT [2020]), Fiona Glascott (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and the upcoming THE MARTINI SHOT [2019]), and Brontis Jodorowsky (7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE [2018] and THE DARKNESS [2016]).

Now for the crew. Directing, we have David Yates, known for THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016), and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts 3 (2020) and Fantastic Beasts 4 (2022). Penning the screenplay, we have J.K. Rowling, known for writing the Harry Potter books. One of the producers is former Harry Potter screen writer Steve Kloves, who is also producing the upcoming MOWGLI: LEGEND OF THE JUNGLE (2018). Composing the score is James Newton Howard, known for NUTRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS (2018), DETROIT (2017), HUNTSMAN 2 (2016), CONCUSSION (2015), MALEFICENT (2014), GREEN LANTERN (2011), UNBREAKABLE (2000), and SPACE JAM (1996). The cinematographer is Philippe Rousselot, known for THE NICE GUYS (2016) and INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (1994). Finally, the editor is Mark Day, known for KIN, LEGEND OF TARZAN, and EX MACHINA (2015).

Overall, I’m a little worried. While I’m eager to see if Depp is going to act normally for once in his career, I can’t say that I’m seeing anything new in this movie. It looks like the story will be bouncing between England and America, which isn’t what I want to see. I wanted to see another country and explore their magical culture. Plus… we’re going back to Hogwarts? Really? I mean, come on, haven’t we had eight movies in that place already? Aren’t we sick of that yet? We better not hang out there for too long, or I might lose it. I’m also hoping to see more development from Newt, as he was pretty bland in the previous outing. I expect that Law will be fine and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t interested in seeing a young McGonagall, but… I don’t know. I’ve set my expectations moderately low. Here’s hoping.

This is my honest opinion of: FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD

 

(SUMMARY)

Set in 1927, five months after the events of the first movie. Despite the American Ministry’s best efforts, Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes custody and makes his way to Paris, France to gather his most loyal followers to wage a war to allow the wizarding world to be free. Meanwhile, in London, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is tasked by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to move against Grindelwald, as Dumbledore himself cannot. Meanwhile, Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) survived his ordeal and is on a journey with former cirus freak Nagini (Claudia Kim) to search for his biological mother.

(REVIEW)

Sorry, Potter-heads, I don’t like this movie. I’m honestly trying to even wrap my mind around what I saw. It was like watching THE MATRIX (1999) for the first time, but if it made even less sense. I think I have to say it, and I’m not taking it back. I think this is the worst installment of the franchise.

Would it be prudent if I started with the positives?

Let’s start with everyone’s first question. No, Johnny Depp is not the reason this movie blows. In fact, he’s too bland to be a positive, or a negative… I say, as I try to list off positives. Look, I’m struggling here, folks. There’s not too many positives to list.

As per usual, the casting is actually pretty good. I can look at Law’s portrayal of a young Dumbledore and see how he becomes the wise and compassionate head of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. Honestly, he’s probably one of the more likable characters in the movie. Also, young McGonagall (Fiona Glascott) was pretty funny for as brief as she was in the movie.

Now to list off some other minor positives.

  • Some of the comedy works. I really liked the line in the official hearing scene with Newt regarding his international travel ban, and when asked why he travels, he simply responds with, “Because I like travelling internationally.” That was cute. There’s a few lines that got a chuckle out of me.
  • For all the flaws that Grindelwald has as a character, I do admit to enjoying his design. White hair, different colored eyes, he’s at least picturesque. Just not the Hot Topic boots. Screw those.
  • I liked that seaweed dragon thing. That was a cool looking beast.
  • I really enjoyed Joshua Shea as teen-Newt. He had his mannerisms down to a tee. Perfect impersonation.

But, dude, seriously… we need to talk about the faults. And believe you me, I’m cracking my knuckles on this one. Lets get to arguing, y’all!

I think it’s a crying shame that Grindelwald wasn’t better written. As I said before, Depp’s performance isn’t the problem, like so many haters were afraid of. Well, okay, he kind of is, but we’ll get to that later. His biggest issue is that his character is just severely underdeveloped. We know that he and Dumbledore shared a hinted-at romantic relationship. Seriously, it’s 2018, just make them gay. Who gives a crap anymore? Conservative parents? Screw ‘em. Life progresses, even if they don’t. Anyway, during his epic speech to his followers, he says things like he doesn’t hate muggles. That he just wants magic users to be free. You know what I think? I think there was some serious opportunity to make Grindelwald a potential protagonist on the wrong side of things. Think about it. What if a few more tweaks in his motivation and personality made him seem more sympathetic. Like, he legit wants to reach out to muggles and establish a… sorry, I’m drunk, I have no idea what the word is, but to show that wizards mean no harm. But something always goes wrong and he takes it like a personal attack, or an attack on his fellow witches and wizards? You see what I’m getting at? Why are movies these days so averted to making a character that we know is wrong in their methodology, but we understand that they were just people trying to make the world a better place, not out of manipulation or ulterior motives, but they legit tried something with merit, and it simply failed. I feel like a more clever writer would be able to do something with this. I think the biggest thing is take away Rowling’s input. This obviously won’t happen, but she’s just not a very good writer.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, she’s the George Lucas of fantasy films. She has wonderful, inspiring, hell, even innovative ideas that other fantasy stories should take notes from. But she, herself, can’t write a good story, or good characters if given all the creative freedom in the world. And considering that she’s written the scripts for these past two films, and is slated for all the proceeding films, her creative freedom is going to reign supreme. Don’t even give it back to Korvis. His one-hit-wonder was AZKABAN, and debatably PHOENIX, but the rest of his work is not a reflection of someone trying to innovate or bring forth a refined sense of story-telling and character-building while staying true to the original source material. Obviously, everything that I’ve been saying is likely directed more toward the motion picture industry as a whole, but I still think it applies here as well.

But more on Grindelwald himself, I’ve been complaining about what I wish I could have seen out of him rather than what he actually is. And as is, he’s still not as compelling. I think the idea is that he’s incredibly charismatic and manipulative, capable of turning friends against friends. And while he technically does that, I just wasn’t that engrossed. I didn’t see a man who appeared to be sympathetic. I saw a jerk and he spoke in a soft voice. That’s it. Where is the character that convinced his jailer to turn against his superiors? I never got that sense from him. Again, Depp isn’t necessarily bad in the movie, but he’s miscast. Depp doesn’t have a “revolutionary leader” charisma about him. He’s either a nut-ball, or a creepy snake. They almost get this down in his opening escape scene where he randomly kills his own loyal pet lizard thing, which I admit was pretty hilarious. But even that gets ruined when he gives one of his English captors the means to save his life instead of letting him fall to his death. What the hell was that, man?! He even kills a toddler! A damned innocent random toddler! A murdered child in the Wizarding World?! When has that ever happen??

Even the mythology is thrown into a blender. In the Harry Potter movies, it’s clearly established that the wizarding world and the muggle world were two separate worlds, the wizarding being a secret. It’s a thin separation, to say the least, especially if I start thinking about muggle-born wizards and witches, but it was semi-clearly defined. But now, the movie says that the wizarding world has enjoyed 100 years of peace with the muggles. Um… okay, the word “peace” has two definitions. The first, “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.” The second, “freedom from or the cessation of war or violence.” So… which “peace” is this universe referring to? It barely matters because each answer comes with it’s own menagerie of questions that I doubt these movies are ever going to answer.

Let’s also talk about some of the story elements and how they don’t make sense. Why does Newt need to take on Grindelwald? I mean… seriously, why Newt? You know what this is? He’s a glorified Steve Irwin tasked with hunting Osama Bin Laden… except that would be @#$%ing awesome because Steve was awesome and had charisma! Newt does not. At first, Redmayne was actually dishing out some adequate comedy. A legit nice connection between Newt and his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) as well as Dumbledore, there was some promise in the beginning. But as the story progresses, Newt becomes the same dull character he was before.

In fact, most of the characters in the movie are uninspired. Credence is spending the entire movie looking for his biological mother, which almost has nothing to do with the overall story until the final act? A whole lot of build-up to an unsatisfying conclusion. <<<SPOILERS>>> [ Get this, so Credence is actually a Dumbledore. We’re lead to believe that he’s somehow related to the LeStrange family, but… nope. Leta swapped her baby brother out with someone else’s baby, her baby brother ended up drowning in a sinking ship, and WHAT THE HELL IS EVEN GOING ON ANYMORE?!?!?! This movie gets so needlessly convoluted that I basically have no idea what I was watching. For the first time, this franchise went a dark and mature route, involving killing children and romantic betrayal, and it’s too complicated to understand. Go freakin’ figure. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>

What the hell happened to Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler)?! Don’t get me wrong, they’re arguably the better written characters in the movie, but their introduction was weird. Like, why did Queenie need to put Jacob under a spell of love, or whatever the hell she did? Wasn’t Jacob already crazy for her to begin with? And her blow up when she heard Jacob call her crazy in his head, Jacob may not have meant it, but I will. It takes a special kind of mental imbalance to put someone under a love spell who is already in love with you. <<<SPOILERS>>> [ I really want to like Queenie going bad, you guys. I really do. Because I think Jacob and Queenie are among the better characters of this new franchise, the fact that they’re now on opposite sides of the upcoming civil war, Queenie with Grindelwald and Jacob with Newt. This is ripe for some serious drama for the two characters, and because there’s no true source material to refer oneself to, it’s a complete mystery how this will pan out. Will either or both of the two former lovers end up dying, will she be redeemed, will he turn to the bad side? There’s some seriously intriguing possibilities with this. With that said, I don’t like how Queenie got converted, nor do I like her motivations. She joins a mass murderer and a revolutionary all because… she wants to marry a muggle, but can’t? Um… that sounds like very thin reasoning. I mean, are these laws universal among the wizarding world? Between entire countries with different histories and mind-sets? In Harry Potter’s story, we know that muggle-borns and half-bloods exist. Was this just an American law then? Then… why not go to a country that doesn’t have that law and get married that way? I don’t see why this calls for joining a war. ] <<<END SPOILERS>>>

Now let’s list off some other minor problems that I had.

  • Bunty (Victoria Yeates) is a pretty useless character. Was she even in the first movie? If she was, she left such little impact that I don’t remember her. Regardless, she’s literally only in this movie for a cheap “Eddie Redmayne made me wet” joke. Funny, but pointless.
  • Even the thought of going to France was an exciting idea. But the story taking place there barely meant anything, as most of the new characters are all British. We don’t get to know what France is like a magical world. Hell, France looked eerily similar to London, so I almost had to remind myself that this movie had a french setting. Lame.
  • Because Jacob remembers everything from the previous movie, there was no point to his obliviation, which takes away the emotional weight of Newt sacrificing a good friend in order to protect him.
  • Also, I’m confused. I remember a relationship developing between Newt and Tina (Katherine Waterston), but never actually going there. So… why are they on such antagonistic terms by the start of this movie? I thought they parted with mutual respect. If I’m wrong, please let me know because this was weird. Why do movies feel the need to have off-screen conversations? Careful, Rowling. Your novelist side is showing.
  • Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird for the wizarding world to have “freaks and oddity” carnivals? I mean… damn, isn’t their world DEFINED by freaky and odd things?
  • I remember a lot of hype around Nagini, but I have no idea what the fuss was. She was Voldemort’s snake? Okay… well, she’s a completely bland character. Hope you fanboys and girls got more out of her than I did.

Overall, I say this is the worst film of the Wizarding World… which I guess is the official title of the universe that Rowling’s created, as it’s doing what Universal did in THE MUMMY by actually making a logo before the film title. As a movie, I’m still not entirely sure what the hell I watched. I barely know what happened, who did what, so little makes any real sense. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t intrigued by elements of the eventual third film. I still enjoy Jacob and Queenie as characters, I like Law as Dumbledore, but that’s about the only saving grace this movie had going for it, and even that stuff had flaws. Ultimately, I say it’s not a good film. In fact, I think it’s bad. Obviously, fans of this franchise don’t give a crap about my opinion and will see this movie anyway. But as for everyone else, don’t see it. Save it for a rental.

My honest rating for FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD: 2/5

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