I was having a pretty good time watching this movie, up until the point where Johnny Depp casts avada kedavra on a hippogriff, turns to the camera, and says, “just like Cecil.” What the fuck, J.K.?
Those white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, but with the other kind of wizard.
Full disclosure: I did not see the first Fantastic Beasts movie, so if I get plot details/names wrong that’s probably why.
The movie starts and Gellert(?) Grindelwald is in magic jail. Wait no that’s not Grindelwald! It’s another guy… disguised as Grindelwald. And then the real Grindelwald is a… different guy? And he has a lizard? It’s like a game of Where’s Grindelwaldo in here.
Newt gets thrown in front of a panel of ministry of magic people, who tell him that he’s not allowed to leave the country since he keeps fucking shit up, unless he agrees to work for them, in which case he should definitely leave the country and fuck shit up. He says no. Then he meets with Dumbledore, who tells him to go to Paris. Newt reiterates that he’s not allowed to go anywhere, but Dumbledore tells him to stop being a pussy.
At Hogwarts, Aurors (the magic 5-0) come and ask Dumbledore to fight Grindelwald. He hits ‘em with the old Kevin Spacey defense, and they leave.
Then there’s like an hour where every single character is looking for Credence. All you need to know about him is that he’s sad, which makes him really OP (mfw crippling depression is the most powerful trait in Harry Potter), and that he doesn’t know who his parents are.
The entire movie builds to this one big reveal, which, if you haven’t seen it, probably won’t make any sense. Here’s my best explanation:
So there’s this guy Kama, whose dad was like a Nigerian prince, and whose mom was… hot. One day, Daddy Lestrange comes around and uses magic to mind control Kama’s mom into going back to England with him. Kama’s mom gives birth to Leta, a childhood friend of Newt’s, but dies in childbirth. Lestrange remarries and has another kid with the new woman, who also dies in childbirth (unlucky). Now-single Daddy Lestrange comes to the realization that Kama is probably a bit salty about the whole “kidnapping his mom” thing. To keep his kids safe, he sends them on a boat to America. As the ship begins to sink, Leta decides she’s tired of her brother’s incessant crying, and switches him out with another baby in a nearby cabin. Leta and new baby make it onto a lifeboat, while the original baby drowns. And then Credence (sadguy) is actually said new baby.
At this point you might be thinking, “oh so it’s like a Last Jedi type deal, where Credence isn’t actually the son of any particularly notable magicians.” But then no, he’s actually Dumbledore’s lost brother. Does this make sense? Probably not. Whatever.
So after that bullshit, Grindelwald calls a wizard rally together in some underground amphitheater place. He comes out, gives what basically amounts to the “some animals are more equal than others” speech from Animal Farm, and shows everyone some cool WWII documentary footage, warning that that’s what’ll happen if wizards don’t cleanse humanity or whatever. Then everyone in the crowd kinda just leaves? Is that how rallies work? You come listen to the keynote speaker for a few minutes and then go? Huh.
Anyway Grindelwald kills a bunch of Aurors, including Leta, and then summons a big bird thing that he wants to use to destroy Paris. So basically his master plan was to create Mothra. The remaining Aurors manage to contain the bird and prevent it from destroying stuff, so nothing actually happens. Kind of emblematic of the whole movie.
I’m going to run through some of the character arcs, and I want you to think about whether there might be a problem.
Newt: Gets told he’s not supposed to do something, gets peer pressured into doing that thing; looks for Tina, finds Tina; goes to Grindelwald rally, survives and helps stop the city from getting destroyed.
Tina: Gets sent to Paris to track down Credence, finds Credence; helps stop Grindelwald’s thingy.
Jacob: Gets charmed into coming to London; goes off to Paris with Newt, walks around looking for Queenie; ends up at the Grindelwald rally.
Leta: Goes with Newt’s brother to Paris, finds Credence; goes to Grindelwald rally, dies.
Now, when you’ve taken as many online IQ tests as I have, you get pretty good at recognizing basic patterns.
So here’s my analysis: none of the characters in The Crimes of Grindelwald have any initiative. Whether or not they have adequate motivation might also be up for contention, but that’s not a big deal to me. Harry Potter is a pretty whimsical franchise, so people doing dumb shit for dumb reasons isn’t too far afield from standard. What has been consistent through most of the series was that characters would generally make pointed decisions for themselves— they would decide to act whenever they felt it was necessary— in fact, I think that may have even been one of the themes of the books. In this movie, most of the people never really choose to do anything. They’re like main characters in a linear RPG— they have some fixed goal or destination, and everything else is padding. The Crimes of Grindelwald is the first Harry Potter movie that might actually make a better video game than a film. The thin plot could’ve been made up for by flashy, memorable action sequences that people could play through and experience. Instead we got this.
The one exception to the above criticism is the film’s titular character, Grindelwald. Unlike everyone else, he actually does take action with some intention in mind, but the film does a really poor job of clarifying what those actually are. At best he’s a clone of Magneto from the X-Men movies: he cares more about his kind than normal humans, he feels the need to demonstrate their superiority, and he rallies them around that central cause. But unlike mutants, wizards in the Harry Potter universe were never really persecuted by muggles. In fact, muggles don’t seem to know that they exist to begin with. Calling Grindelwald “wizard Hitler” isn’t even that accurate, since a lot of Hitler’s grievances don’t apply to wizards at all. Muggles never made them sign questionably stable treaties, or indirectly caused Galleon hyperinflation.
Of course, the fact that Grindelwald wasn’t actually persecuted doesn’t necessarily mean that he can’t have a persecution complex. What I don’t understand is why other wizards take so much sympathy with his cause. Unlike X-Men, and the Weimar Republic, wizards face little to no hardship. In fact, most of their “restrictions” (not being able to reveal themselves, sometimes not being allowed to marry), are almost entirely self-imposed by other wizards. It seems like some of the reforms Grindelwald claims to want could be accomplished by attaining a position of power within the ministry of magic. Why he feels the need to stage a “wizard revolution” is beyond me.
Also, as a proud gamer, I find the idea that wizards understand oppression laughable.
Magic and other stuff
Throughout this review, I’ve been referring to the movie by its subtitle, but it’s worth noting that technically, this movie is called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Not only is this way too long, but more importantly: why is this movie even in the “Fantastic Beasts” franchise? Newt and his creatures are completely irrelevant to the plot, and removing them from the film wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Plus, they basically only introduce one new beast in the entire movie, which is that weird cat-thing that can jump really far. (Taming him is also the only thing that Newt actually does.)
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that this film shouldn’t exist, more that it’s classified under the wrong series. Maybe if WB had taken notes from Disney, they could’ve made this The Crimes of Grindelwald: A Harry Potter story. Instead wizard civil war got lumped in with kawaii magic cats.
Also, the magic in this movie was a lot… stronger than stuff in the previous Harry Potter’s. In the original series, there were like a few dozen spells mentioned ever, and the three most powerful were all considered super illegal. In this movie, wizards can basically do anything they want with the wave of a wand. I’d give a pass to Grindelwald and Dumbledore, since I know they’re supposed to be like the best wizards of all time, but even the regular wizards in this movie were pretty insane compared to ones in the OG. On the same note, it seemed like Newt himself is a pretty damn good wizard, which is kinda weird given that he’s a zookeeper. Like you’d expect his focus to not be on battle magic at all, but he holds his own better than trained professionals. Wild.
Maybe I’m off here, but my impression of the Fantastic Beasts movies is that they’re supposed to be these kinda light-hearted adventure prequels which build on the established Potter universe. And while a lot of the parts with Newt, Jacob, Queenie, and Tina kinda felt like that, this movie also had some of the darkest stuff from any Harry Potter movie. I mean, sure, Voldemort’s probably a creepier villain overall, but unlike his fanatical cult of personality, Grindelwald’s followers seem to be drawn to his ideology, however murky or nonsensical it actually is. So in that sense, as ridiculous as K-Pop Johnny Depp is of a character, Grindelwald’s villainy is more grounded in reality than most of what we’d seen from HP stuff in the past. Well, except Umbridge.
I guess my main problem with the tone in this movie is that, while some super messed up stuff happens, very little of it has any weight. The climax, which sees Grindelwald killing like a dozen Aurors, has no emotional impact once it gets brushed aside in the next scene. Leta’s death, which should arguably be just as sad as the death of, say, Cedric, is glossed over completely. I find it kinda fucked up that Newt’s brother, who was going to marry her seemed less shaken up about her death than Harry did over a guy that he kinda knew for a few months.
If you want to make a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and doesn’t want to deal with dark, heavy themes, that’s totally fine. But why bother writing in these emotionally exploitative moments when you’re not going to give them a proper showing?
Editing-wise, there are a few mistakes that made it into the final cut. For instance, in the ministry scene where Newt meets with his brother, the camera cuts around in a way where the two switch which side of the screen they’re on, violating the 180-degree rule. There were a couple more minor things here and there with weird cuts between scenes, but the bigger issue was (wait for it) pacing.
Yeah, yeah, I know that “pacing bad” is usually a really shallow complain. To be clear, I’m not proposing that there’s such a thing as “objectively good” pacing. But, in general, you don’t want long stretches of time where literally nothing happens, nor do you want so much action taking place in a short span that it’s impossible to understand (everything beyond that is pretty much a stylistic choice). This movie kinda had both of those problems. On the one hand, a lot of the time it felt like nothing important was really taking place. Sure there was a bit of character development here or some random lore there, but nothing that was really relevant to this movie. On the other, during the 30 or so minutes of the climax, (from when the weird reveals started happening to the big firebird attacking Paris), I had a hard time following what was going on.
The way things turned out, there were these big gaps, where characters would go from one place to another without a clear explanation of how they ended up there and what they were doing. I’m guessing an edit of this movie that actually made sense probably would’ve been 3+ hours long, which is why it ended up as it did.
One thing that this movie did have going for it was its visuals. I was a big fan of the 1920’s esthetic, and the costume design was pretty great. There was kind of a Great Gatsby type thing going on with the clothing. The set design was also pretty good, albeit a bit wonky. The facades of the buildings in London had this weird blur effect to them— I’m guessing that was done to save time/money for rendering.
The CGI also looked pretty fake, but in a cute, charming way. One of the beasts in particular (the little platypus thing) basically looked like a stuffed animal, but it didn’t matter that much. Also, since the beasts are barely in this movie, the impact of their quality was pretty negligible. The magic CGI was good for the most part, except in the big fight at the end, where Grindelwald’s “fire” looked like an effect in iMovie.
The fact that this movie’s score wasn’t entirely rap remixes of Harry Potter themes, compiled into a soundtrack titled Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them: The Rhymes of Grindelwald, is a goddamn travesty.
I could probably go on about why this movie is stupid, or doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I’m guessing a lot of dedicated Potter fans probably won’t consider any of this “canon” anyway, so there’s no point. This movie isn’t actually bad, and I think if you don’t care that much about Harry Potter lore you might not have any problems with it. As a person who’s doesn’t like HP that much, but is familiar with the series, I’d say this was pretty average.
Good for: The future viability of Harry Potter spin-off movies, if it makes money
Bad for: The future viability of Harry Potter spin-off movies, if it does not make money
Bod R8s: 4/8