Director: David Yates
Writer: J.K. Rowling
Composer: James Newton Howard
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller
Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was an unprecedented triumph in the world of children’s literature, though the same magic hasn’t struck the straight-to-film prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. First, in another long line of films, audiences criticized the movie’s bore-inducing length and unexciting plot. Yet it still performed well at the box office and garnered enough interest amongst fans. The sequel, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald promises a look at the younger versions of many of the series’ favorites. With cameos and the timeline getting closer to the books, will this be the film to sell this spin-off series? Or will it further dilute society’s appetite for all things Harry Potter?
Violence/Scary Images: This film is the bleakest in terms of magical violence. There is a high body count, with some characters killed execution-style via wands. One victim of such a murder is a toddler, though it happens off-screen. There are many animal attacks throughout the film; there is no gore or blood but some people are injured. One character can turn into a snake. There is an extended sequence involving flames, where several characters are seen burning/evaporating. The image of a drowning baby is prominent. One character can turn into a destructive force that obliterates whatever they touch. Tweezers are used to pull a parasite out of a person’s eye. The villains in the film have a philosophy reminiscent of the horrors that occurred in World War II.
Language/Crude Humor: H*ll is the worst word uttered, with minor insults such as “coward” and “crazy” used throughout the film.
Drug/Alcohol References: A woman pours a beer for a man. It may actually be butterbeer. Magical potions are drunk. A character behaves as though they are intoxicated.
Sexual Content: There are two relationships that cross the line when it comes to consent. A coercive relationship is described, though not shown on camera. A man is found to be under the influence of an infatuation/love spell against his own will. It is mentioned that this has occurred multiple times. There is some kissing between married couples. A statue that is loosely draped, particularly around the breasts, comes to life.
The story hints at a homosexual relationship between two men (although this is mostly confirmed through external sources, not in the movie itself). A man describes his bond with another man as being “more than brothers”. Their hands are shown being held together, while there is a scene where one looks longingly at another. Children won’t understand this nuance, though adults certainly will, particularly if they’re familiar with J.K. Rowling’s mulit-media posts.
Spiritual Content: Like the previous films in this series, the story is set in a world where wizards, witches, and magic exist. There is a heavy depiction of spell casting and mythological beasts. Some creatures are original, though most are based on other ancient religions, particularly those in the east. Some creatures seen or mentioned include a phoenix, zouwu, kappa, chupacabra, matagot, and kelpie, though this list is certainly not comprehensive.
Other Negative Content: A few characters are manipulated for another person’s gain. There are a few instances of breaking and entering in order to steal something. Many characters firmly hold onto a worldview that reinforces a type of racism or caste system–a view that is reminiscent of Hitler’s uprising in World War II.
Positive Content: Like the first film, there is a strong message about the importance of understanding a person first, before judging their character based off their physical characteristics or reputation. That said, the film also shows that discernment is needed, particularly since some people are manipulative. It’s important to get to the heart of a person.
“The book is always better than the movie,” I remember hearing a friend say. Well ok, it’s not just a friend, but rather several people I’ve met throughout the course of my life, both in person and online. “There’s just so much more detail!” They would add.
I don’t know why these statements are such a pet peeve of mine. It’s not just that there are plenty of exceptions to the rule; that doesn’t completely encompass my grievances. Naturally, people are perfectly free to have their preference of written over visual material. Yet sometimes I feel these statements arise from a lack of understanding that literature is an utterly different art form to film; books cannot be translated directly, with no changes whatsoever, onto the screen. In the written word, authors can spend as much time as they like describing settings or delving into the thinking patterns of their characters. Whereas films are about the efficiency of information, conveyed with a simple look or visual style.
No film has really demonstrated this point better than Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Sure, it was never a book; its story was birthed from the screenplay. Yet with J.K Rowling (the author that started it all when it comes to Potterdom) as the screenwriter, we get to witness what it’s like when something for the screen is written like a book.
And guess what?
It’s a terrible movie.
This is where I need to stop and try to remember all the positive aspects of this film. As always with these types of movies, the visuals are stunning, with a few moments that are a treat for audiences that selected the 3D session. David Yates is once again the director, and he does the best job he can to keep such an overblown, uneven story afloat.
The performances are strong despite the exposition-laden dialogue. If you saw the first film, then you may be worried about being stuck with Johnny Depp this time around, as opposed to the more likable Colin Farrell. Considering Depp’s previous filmography, there’s a lot of fear that he’ll turn Grindelwald into some bizarre caricature, making it seem like he’s acting in a different film to everyone else. Thankfully those fears are unjust–to be honest, despite the movie’s title, he’s barely in this film. Depp gives a very restrained performance, which is nice to see coming from a seasoned character actor like him, though ultimately it’s most likely due to a lack of creativity from within the script. There’s just not much for him to explore.
Jude Law seamlessly slips into the role of Dumbledore, though like Grindelwald, it’s a crime he’s not seen more often throughout the movie’s runtime. Like the previous film, Newt Scamander is the story’s central focus, once again played brilliantly by Eddie Redmayne. A special shout out needs to go to Joshua Shea, who plays a younger version of Newt in this film. It’s not easy to adopt the mannerisms of a character that another actor has crafted. Yet Shea rises to the challenge and nails Redmayne’s quirky character, truly giving the impression that the only real difference between their interpretations of Newt is the age they’re portraying.
Indeed, every creative department does a competent job on this film, making it all the more painfully obvious that all the flaws rest on J.K. Rowling’s script. In order to fully appreciate just how atrociously boring this movie is, I’d like you to imagine what it would be like to turn the Biblical book of Numbers into a film. Sure, you’re eventually rewarded with a talking donkey, but that’s after spending half the time obsessing over genealogies that seemingly have little to no relevance to the current audience. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is to Potterdom as Numbers is to Scripture. There’s literally a family tree portrayed in the film, and the audience is left wondering why it all matters… but hey, at least there’s a few scenes scattered here and there featuring weird and wonderful creatures!
This movie is devoid of an emotional connection. The audience resists investing in the characters. It’s my job to ask: why is that? There are many reasons, though one of the more obvious ones is that Rowling has created so much superfluous muck to wade through, that audiences simply grow weary by the movie’s conclusion.
While I haven’t read any of the books (I know, I know), through the content of the films, I’ve surmised that Rowling has a tendency to inject multiple red herrings into her plots. She also has a habit of cheating the audience out of witnessing a character struggle with their circumstance, as she’ll write them into a corner, only to quickly deliver them out of their problems with a highly convenient magical episode. She’s fantastic at world-building, though while book fans may have been upset that not all the Quidditch matches were included in the past films, movie lovers have been thankful for the shorter, more efficient runtime that came as a result of stripping the story down to its basics.
All of Rowling’s bad habits are present in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. It truly feels like no one pulled her aside and reined in her creative process. Narrative storytelling in cinema follows certain rules, and while these can be broken, one still has to know what they are. J.K. Rowling is either incompetent or naïve when it comes to this writing style.
The film’s biggest fault is that it’s telling the story through the wrong character’s eyes. Newt Scamander has the same problem as Indiana Jones, in that his actions end up having little to no bearing on the outcome of the events. Like Ayra Stark, Newt buddies up and chases the people he cares about around the map, and that’s about it. Except unlike Ayra, there are no real stakes. His motivation to get involved stems more from the fact that he’s simply a nice guy as opposed to any compelling reason. His adventure is crippled even more thanks to the fact that Newt and the villain, Grindelwald, have barely anything to do with each other. There’s so little beef between these characters that they might as well be vegan.
The result in picking the wrong protagonist means that an important step in the storytelling process is skipped. It’s the Call to Adventure (if you’re a fan of the Hero’s Journey), the Inciting Incident, or the Break Into Act Two depending on what narrative model you’re using. There’s a sense of lethargy in this film because it never officially gets going, and that’s because the hero never really needs to undertake this adventure. After all, it was never Newt’s to go on in the first place.
Generally speaking, the protagonist is the character that undergoes the biggest emotional journey. In this movie’s case, that would make it Credence Barebone. If you’ve seen the first film, then I’m sure you can already see the problem. He was the MacGuffin–a plot device (this time in human form) that all the other characters desired. Usually presented as an object, it’s a role in narrative storytelling that doesn’t typically garner much emotional investment from the audience. It’s important in setting up the story, but it becomes less and less vital as the protagonist begins to grow as a person.
In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the story is really about Newt’s journey towards acceptance, with Credence’s story merely echoing those sentiments. Credence was just there to push the plot along. So when it’s revealed that Credence plays an incredibly impactful role in the sequel, it’s difficult to adapt and accept his character, particularly when most people would’ve assumed his storyline was expendable. The audience developed no meaningful emotional connection to Credence in the first film, so it feels like a case of too little too late when it comes to investing in the character in the sequel.
Yet even if Credence were in the starring role, it wouldn’t save this film. He trudges around, seeking his birth mother, but there’s still not enough conflict in his story to amount to any satisfying drama. The greatest source of conflict in this film is actually between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, though both are horribly underutilized. With no drama within the world of the film, it actually becomes more entertaining to analyze Rowling’s movements through the socio-political minefield that she dug for herself when, years ago, she ascribed a sexual orientation to a character when it was completely irrelevant.
By announcing that Dumbledore was gay, she has written herself into a corner, and unfortunately, in the real world, no magic can save her. While her Twitter feed suggests that she may not have the skill to pull off the portrayal of an authentic homosexual relationship, she has to try, because if she reconsiders the direction of Dumbledore now, she’d spark the hatred of influential minority groups.
Yet one cannot help but get the sense that a producer has pulled her aside and whispered that, despite people calling for more LGBT representation, these vocal members in society still aren’t backing up their words with their wallet. Coupled with a desperate need to recoup hefty production costs by appealing to overseas markets, suddenly the film is awkwardly crunching a few eggshells as it tries to portray a homosexual relationship… but not really, as that would get the filmed instantly banned in the Chinese and Russian market.
In order to explore the full extent of the rift between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, then the story needs to commit one way or the other. Is it a story of brotherhood? Or are they spurned lovers? Halfway in-between is muddy, in amongst a movie already filled with unnecessary information. It’s a shame as there’s a good story ready to be uncovered here, but it can never be properly explored.
But the problems don’t end there. With the LGBT community requesting that non-heterosexual roles should be offered to actors of the same orientation, will that mean that Jude Law and Johnny Depp’s casting will eventually come under fire?
There’s also the unwritten same-same rule when it comes to the villain. If a minority group is represented by the antagonist, then the protagonist must belong to that group as well. Having the hero of the story belong to an oppressive majority subliminally sends a particular message when it’s time to defeat the villain from a minority group. There’s a reason that, despite actors loving villainous roles and society wishing for more diverse representation on screen, somehow the major part of the antagonist isn’t up for discussion. Everyone wants to see themselves represented as heroes, not the bad guys. While we can applaud Rowling for bucking the trend and producing the first gay villain we’ve seen on screen for a very long time, one wonders whether Newt Scamander, the straight white male, will ever be the true protagonist of the piece. Can this story ever break free from its self-inflicted identity politics?
This is where it becomes obvious that Newt’s involvement in this story is purely for franchise reasons. He’s there as a familiar face. That’s it. It’ll be interesting to see where Rowling takes this story next considering all the potential pitfalls that are littered in front of her.
Yet that brings me to the final problem–the entire film is geared towards crafting the next story, not the current one. It’s all filler. If you thought Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was bad, producing a contrived series of events to position itself for a better movie next time, then this film will horrify you with its pointlessness. There truly isn’t much to love or to justify a revisit. What is gained from this film can be summed up in one sentence, and I’m sorely tempted to spoil this movie, to provide you with the puny amount of information that you’ll need going forward, just to save you two hours of your life.
It’s a boring film. This is coming from a critic that ranked the slow-paced Blade Runner 2049 as her favorite film last year. I like to think that I have a high tolerance for drawn-out dramas. Yet Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald truly tested my patience. I think I would actually prefer to rewatch The Pure Necessity–a film that intentionally seeks to bore its audience–over Crimes of Grindelwald because at least it fulfilled its artistic vision. Rowling’s dud is frustrating because there’s no excuse for a film of this caliber in regards to budget, crew, and cast, to be this unentertaining.
I gave this film every chance to show me its glory. I attended the 4D session (no, that’s not a typo–4D now exists), where the lights in the cinema flash when there’s lightning, the seats move with the camera, and water squirts in my face when its raining (which unfortunately happens a lot in the first half of this film). Even with this film turned into a literal ride, I can’t recommend this movie. The 3D graphics are nice in some places, but the special effects aren’t enough to warrant the price of admission. Save your money, read a summary of the plot on Wikipedia, and spend those hours of your life on something more productive. Like the book of Numbers, all the action happened in Exodus, and now you’re just waiting for Joshua.
The Bottom Line