Review by: Laura Schaubschlager
I just saw Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and once again, I have to separate my feelings as a die-hard 20-year-long Harry Potter fan from my thoughts as a movie critic. While I have a lot of gripes about how lazy J.K. Rowling‘s later additions and retcons to the Wizarding World canon have been, how parts of the timelines between the books and these movies don’t line up, and how casting an alleged domestic abuser as a lead in a movie whose source material has a main character who regularly suffers domestic abuse is messed up, I need to focus on this movie as just that–a movie. Fortunately, this second installment in the five-part series gives me plenty to work with on its own.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, directed by David Yates, picks up nearly a year after the end of the first film’s events. The sinister criminal wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes captivity and flees to Paris to rally more supporters and continue manipulating Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), the sensitive orphaned teen with a mysterious and dangerous background. Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruits his former student and magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to find and help Credence before Grindelwald can get to him.
As with the first Fantastic Beasts movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald has a serious pacing problem. I had hoped that once they decided to expand the series from three to five movies it would improve, since they now have two more films to spread out the story, but it’s just worse. They try to fit in too many subplots and character backstories without enough time to develop them, so they feel forced and lazy.
The plots and subplots include: Newt’s continued research of magical creatures (you know, what you’d expect a film series titled FANTASTIC BEASTS to mostly focus on) and his mission to save Credence per Dumbledore’s request with the help of wizard cop and maybe more-than-friend Tina (Katherine Waterston), as well as their strained relationship over a misunderstanding; Grindelwald’s plotting to take over the wizarding world; non-wizard Jacob (Dan Fogler) regaining his memory after having it wiped in the first movie (which happens entirely off screen) and having a rocky relationship with mind-reading witch Queenie (Alison Sudol); Queenie’s wavering loyalty and growing attraction to Grindelwald’s side; Credence’s relationship with the cursed serpentine shapeshifter Nagini (Claudia Kim), their background at a sketchy wizard circus, and their search for Credence’s birth mother; the love triange between Newt, his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and Theseus’s fiance/Newt’s former flame Leta Lestrange (Zöe Kravitz), and Leta’s dark family backstory, filled in by enigmatic wizard Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam). There’s a good chance I forgot some smaller subplots. That’s a LOT to include in a two hour and thirteen minute-long movie, and because of that, it all feels underdeveloped and hastily explained.
While the writing is a major issue, there are still good parts of this movie. The acting is still mostly strong, especially the core four. Fogler is delightful as Jacob, Redmayne is charming as Newt, Waterston is excellent but underused as Tina, and Sudol does well with what she’s given as Queenie, considering her character feels dumber and more easily manipulated than she was set up to be in the first movie. Jude Law is a great new addition to the cast and is wonderful as a younger Dumbledore. Ezra Miller and Claudia Kim feel a little wooden in their performances, but that might be because of how little they’re given dialogue-wise. Zoe Kravitz gives an understated but emotional performance; while her backstory is poorly handled, she does a great job in the role. The weakest link acting-wise is absolutely Johnny Depp, whose performance feels so half-assed. Depp himself has admitted he’s had a sound engineer feed his lines to him through an earpiece for some movies (he claims it allows him to “act better with his eyes”), and it definitely feels like he did that here, and no amount of “eye acting” can save this performance. I’m still baffled at this casting decision; it feels like the filmmakers thought “Well, he was famous for playing exaggerated characters a decade or two ago, so let’s go with him.” I really wish they had kept Colin Farrell, who was much better as a disguised Grindelwald in the first movie; he’s just as menacing but much more subtle than Depp could ever be.
As with the first movie, this film’s biggest strength is the visuals. The CGI is gorgeous, and the design for the magical creatures is beautifully imaginative; I especially like the zouwu, an enormous lion-like beast Newt finds in Paris. We see some new creatures in Newt’s workspace at the beginning as well, and I really wish there had been more focus there, because there’s so much to look at. Some familiar creatures from the last film make appearances too, including the gold-sniffing niffler, and I don’t care how overused for cheap laughs he is, because he is SO CUTE and if you want to see me cry, just play the scene with an injured niffler dejectedly limping out of the wreckage of the fight toward the end of the film on a loop, and if anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas, Barnes and Noble sells niffler stuffed animals-ahem, sorry. In addition to the stunning CGI, the costumes, hair, and makeup in this film is mostly lovely too, with the exception of Grindelwald’s watered-down Tim Burton-style villain look. Overall, I love the late-30’s aesthetic, and it blends well with the wizarding fashion.
I really wish this series had stuck to what the title promised: Newt’s adventures searching for fantastic beasts. If the focus had been on that, with Grindelwald’s rise to power as a B-plot (with some eventual overlap with the A-plot), it would have been so much easier to pace and develop. Unfortunately, J.K. Rowling continues to forget that writing screenplays isn’t the same as writing a series of 300 to 800-page novels. I know I’ll end up seeing the rest of Fantastic Beasts movies out of a sense of fan obligation, but as pretty as they are, my expectations are low for the future films.
Have you seen the latest ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’? Well, what did you think?
12 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)”
Yeah, I heard this wasn’t just a disappointing film but also filled with a lot of things that would baffle the most die-hard of Harry Potter fans as it relates to all of the backgrounds and such. I agree that writing a screenplay and a book are completely different mediums. Some are saying that Rowling went George Lucas on the fans. That is bad. If this is what Rowling is doing with the series, then… no thanks.
That’s one of my biggest gripes about it as a HP fan: it disregards a lot of stuff set up in the original series at the expense of pandering. The surprising thing is, though, most die-hard HP fans I’ve seen in the comments of other reviews have been aggressively defending the movie anyway, arguing that being critical of these movies is “bringing negativity to the fandom” and that JK Rowling can do whatever she wants with the movies because she created the world they’re set in. So many of them apparently can’t wrap their heads around the concept of liking a writer’s older work while still being critical of her newer stuff. Yeah, she can do what she wants with the world she created, but that doesn’t mean what she does with it isn’t lazy or inconsistent.
Whoooo…sorry for the mini-essay. I have lots of feelings on this subject. 😀
No, keep ranting. I hate those fans who are apologists on these things. They’re so fucking blind and fucking stupid. After all, there’s a few songs by Nine Inch Nails that I don’t like. I can live with that and I can take that criticism.
Dude, THANK YOU. If people like these movies despite their problems, that’s fine. But I’ve seen so many people who act like being critical of it is a personal attack against them and go on the defensive in the most ridiculous ways possible.
This is among the reasons why I stopped going to the NIN-fan forum Echoing the Sounds. Everyone takes things too seriously whether it’s about politics or something. I really hate the 21st Century. Everyone seems to act entitled or if you say a bad word, they blow up as if they’re being offended. I’m sorry but if you can’t take a single amount of criticism, then tough shit.
Thank you for having common sense and keep up with those reviews. You’re awesome.
Thank you so much! I always appreciate seeing your comments on my reviews. You’re awesome too!
Boy that sounds like a lot of storylines in just one film. I was mildly entertained by the first the film, I might give this one a watch when it hits Netflix. I’m a fan of the Harry Potter books and films, but sounds likes JK is being lazy with these newer stories and just doing it for some quick big cash in. I’m still surprised that the studio gave her all the freedom with story, typically movie this size and scope, they’d have like 2 or 3 writers doing rewrites.
It really is! and there are THREE MORE MOVIES TO GO! Why stuff THAT much in one film when you can (and should) spread it out over the series so you can develop them!? Yeah, sadly, that’s mostly how I feel about Rowling now too. I was wondering about her freedom with screenwriting too. I’ll have to look into whether there are others with writing credits, because I can’t imagine giving sole writing responsibilities to one person, especially one who doesn’t have experience in that particular writing style, but if there ARE other writers involved, why didn’t they try to tidy up the scripts?! Did Rowling just refuse to let them cut anything? Ugh.
I’d be curious to know too if any other writers were involved but maybe the contract demands that she gets sole credit. Sometime studios tends to give more leeway to talents who’ve made them tons of money, of course JK’s Harry Potter books and films made billions so she has the power to demand stuff from them.
The first film bored the hell out of me (as well as confused me), I have no interest in this one. Looks like JK Rowling may have shit the Harry Potter bed, given the middling reviews for this.
Yeah, they’ve really felt like bad fanfiction (and as a former teenager who wrote bad HP fanfiction, I feel qualified to say this, haha). If this film is an indication of the direction the quality of the series is going, I’m glad I don’t have to pay to see the press screenings.
I gave it the same. Liked it but had a lot of issues with it.