Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Last night, I saw Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald with friends. I want to share my thoughts on this movie. I don’t usually review movies as I don’t consider myself a movie buff or anywhere near qualified to write about films. So, I’m deciding to talk about this film in a blog post instead of a review.

I’m going to be upfront and let you know I did not like the movie. The experience was very disappointing for me as both an audience member and a long time Harry Potter fan. I want to love this movie – I love the first one – and I’m fairly forgiving when it comes to movies in general. Unfortunately, I left the theatre making bad jokes to my husband about Credence’s teenage angst and Johnny Depp’s haircut. The Crimes of Grindelwald was not the movie I expected.

Nor was it the movie I wanted.

*This review includes minor spoilers for the plot, but significant spoilers are redacted to #keepthesecrets. While I did not like this movie, I’m still a fan of the Wizarding World and J.K. Rowling. I will not betray her trust.*

After settling into comfy recliner seats with a box of Cookie Dough Bites and a Vitamin Water, I rolled my eyes through previews of remakes and Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu (jury is still out on that movie). When the lights finally dimmed, I felt a wave of relief upon hearing the familiar haunting jingle of the Harry Potter films. I’m not a movie-goer for a lot of reasons, and the previews before this film reminded me that most of the blockbuster up-and-comings are watered-down versions of the adventures I can find in my books.

But not Harry Potter. The Crimes of Grindelwald promised a fresh story from Rowling. Over the years, Pottermore, The Cursed Child, and now Fantastic Beasts have expanded Harry Potter into an increasingly crowded and convoluted story that feels closer to Marvel’s Universe than the Wizarding World I knew as a teen.

And I love every second of it.

I have too many Harry Potter socks and still not enough.

I love the first Fantastic Beasts too. I walked into that movie with low expectations anticipating a hollow story that relied on CGI magic effects and nostalgia. I exited the theatre feeling like I’d read a brand-new Harry Potter book. The movie added backstory to the canon I know so well, offering a detailed glimpse of life outside of Hogwarts. I loved seeing the adult wizarding world unshackled from the (relative) safety of the school, dealing with a lot of the same issues of love, friendship, and work-life balance as us muggles do.

The first Fantastic Beasts movie introduced us to Newt: a particularly endearing protagonist so wonderfully different from arrogant and somewhat narcissistic Harry. It also brought us fierce and brilliant Tina and her sister, Queenie, whose genuine performance stole every scene.

And Jacob. Jacob was the character I never knew I needed in the Harry Potter movies. I knew they were going to bring him back in the sequel – they had to – but I didn’t think it would be like this.

Not like this.

The Crimes of Grindelwald opens with backstory running at breakneck speed to fill in the gaps from the first movie and set up all the pieces for this one. It feels a bit like a child dumping the entire contents of their toy box onto the carpet, their tiny voice slurring words as they keep up a monologue of the names, relationships, and super-cool, secret powers of every action figure. The word “convoluted” came to mind as I chomped on Cookie Dough Bites, my brain trying to create a mental flowchart in my head of everyone’s name, side, and relationships.

Let me say now that the amount of secret family relationships in this movie puts Game of Thrones to shame.

Johnny Depp blasts into this middle of this action early on with his interpretation of Grindelwald. I didn’t like it. I’m not a huge Johnny Depp fan, and I echo the sentiment that every character he’s played since Captain Jack Sparrow is Captain Jack Sparrow. So, I felt like I was watching Johnny Depp playing Captain Jack Sparrow playing Grindelwald. The performance felt ingenuine. Voldemort is the creepy, unlovable villain who amasses followers through violence, force, and power. Grindelwald is supposed to be seductive, drawing in his followers by preaching a morally gray message that people believe in. I could see the film straining to tell this angle: that Grindelwald isn’t merely power hungry but honestly feels that life would be better if wizards could live free from the persecution and suspicion of muggles. After all, Dumbledore once shared similar dreams of freedom for the magical race, abandoning Grindelwald only after it became clear the ends didn’t justify the means.

Unfortunately, this nuanced drama came across better in Rita Skeeter’s book seven tell-alls. It never translated on screen.

Instead, the movie casts a decidedly unsexy Grindelwald. From Depp’s mannerism choices to his awful – really just awful – hair and makeup choices, I found it unrealistic anyone could see Grindelwald in a powerful and seductive light. He looks sickly and weird. I’m not convinced.

I’m also not convinced he’s committed enough crimes to name the movie after them. While he does order the execution of a toddler – it’s not shown and done, uh, as tastefully as a filmed baby-killing can be – there’s a lack of actual violence and terror in the film. Sure, he commits a few sociopathic acts like flinging a pet lizard out a flying stagecoach to its death, but for most of the film, Grindelwald lounges in broad daylight, in a house in Europe, while manufacturing a long-winded plot even Dumbledore would be proud of.

Backing up a bit (this movie is all over the place, and I’m not even going to attempt this review in chronological order), we are introduced to the foursome (Gang? What’s the canon word for these guys?) who are not having a great time. Again, in a rush of backstory, we learn that Newt has a brother in the ministry and his ex-girlfriend (or unrealized love interest; I’m not sure) Leta Lestrange is engaged to his handsome, successful older brother. However, in a scandal that would make Rita Skeeter proud, a magazine story mistakenly reports Leta and Newt as engaged. Tina reads that one story in that one magazine and is now angry and avoiding Newt.

Did I just stumble onto the set of Days of Our Lives?

This brings us to Jacob and Queenie. I hate writing these next sentences because this part of the movie disappointed me the most.

Jacob stumbles into Newt’s apartment with Queenie. He remembers Newt. He remembers everything because:

The spell didn’t work.

That’s the first Deus Ex Machina. The memory spell didn’t work. Oh, well great.

I’m so angry. That’s sloppy, lazy storytelling.

But it gets worse: Queenie, suddenly every stereotype of a hysterical woman, is desperate to marry Jacob despite it being illegal. So, she spells him with a love potion to make him marry her against his will.

What – what year is this? 2018? The film spends barely a frame on this serious issue of consent and chalks it up to Queenie being crazy – you know, like women are, I guess. She fights with Jacob – who upon realizing he was enchanted against his will still freaking loves her – and takes off to find her sister in Paris. Jacob spends the rest of the movie as added luggage Newt must carry around. I love Jacob, and every moment he is on screen he nails his comedic timing and absurd facial expressions, but the magic in this character (pun intended) is lost now that his reactions to seeing magic are no longer fresh surprises. He could have been entirely cut, and the movie would have functioned fine.

Meanwhile, Queenie’s character continues to devolve throughout the film. We watch her have a literal mental breakdown that feels so far away from her character arc in the first movie. It’s rushed and poorly cinematically handled with jumping frames, odd angles, and makeup choices that cast her in a very unflattering light. Her [spoiler redacted] choice at the end feels mismanaged and forced instead of sympathetic yet devastating.

Mismanaged and forced is a good way to describe the tangled middle of this movie. The Crimes of Grindelwald jumps character perspectives and plot lines through shaky camera swings and sometimes all-out magical shortcuts that include a magical cat-lion and a jigsaw scene change from the ministry to a graveyard that left me wondering if I’d blacked out and missed twenty minutes of transition. Newt’s arc – still the most interesting of them all – includes magical creatures, but not nearly enough to justify the Fantastic Beasts logo. I love Eddie Redmayne as Newt. I think his performance as the shy, awkward, creature-loving Hufflepuff is spot-on. His moments with Dumbledore return me to the heart of the Harry Potter series, recapturing the intrigue of the first movie again. But they’re few and far between, forcing Newt out of the spotlight in favor of so many new faces.

This is to say nothing of the cameos of characters from the original book series. Nicolas Flamel shows up, shuffling across the scene, bones breaking from handshakes, and acts as yet another Deus Ex Machina (three now?), arriving at the climax of the film with a spell that saves the day.

[Spoiler redacted] also has a short, unnecessary cameo that breaks all laws of canon. It caused me to shout “[Redacted] wasn’t even born yet!” at my husband, spilling my Cookie Dough bites on the ground.

The one saving grace to this movie is Dumbledore. The task of bringing the iconic Dumbledore to life on screen as a young man felt impossible. But Jude Law is gentle and nuanced in his portrayal, nailing Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes and aloof disposition. The movie slows down whenever he appears on the screen; Jude Law speaks at half the pace as anyone else, unbothered by the hurried tension of the story and the speed of the movie. He takes his time teasing ministry officials, teaching classes, and convincing Newt to do him a favor by breaking the law and saving the wizarding world (apparently Dumbledore doesn’t change much). The ending leaves me with the hope the next movies will include more of Dumbledore.

And Jude Law.

Which brings me to the ending. I’m not going to spoil the twist, but I will say that the ending includes all the main characters in one location with a minor character monologuing the whole plot twist. It’s literally the summation monologue trope after the summation gathering trope. So much of this movie depends on characters not being honest with each other, and while this is a very real-life issue, it’s stretched to unrealistic standards in the film. Newt literally takes an entire conversation with Tina to spit out that he’s not engaged to Leta. That scene felt like a metaphor for the entire movie. I wanted to grab all these characters – most of whom are on the same damn side – and sit them down in a room together so they could talk. That doesn’t happen. Instead, we get a random monologuing man (I still don’t know his name) followed by over twenty minutes of non-stop reveals punctuated by magical fights and special effects. By the time the final, most jaw-dropping, canon-breaking, unrealistic plot twist occurs right before the credits, I was already over it.

I’m angry. I’m angry that the people in charge of this movie stuffed it so full of chaos and plot twists they managed to drain the magic from Harry Potter. As a writer and a fan, I’m angry at the non-canon plot twists and cameos that break the building blocks of Harry Potter lore. Sure, there’s a chance that [spoiler redacted] twist is a big fat lie by Grindelwald – not the world’s most truthful wizard – but I have a sinking feeling it’s not. You can’t break canon. If you break canon as an author, you lose all authority over your work. It ceases to have walls, and walls are especially important in speculative fiction. They keep the balance between the possible and the impossible, allowing for that suspension of belief. When canon is breached so significantly, it can render a universe broken. Why should I invest myself in a story and a world if everything can change for fanservice, for the movie adaptation, or to only keep the story growing to keep the money flowing.

As H.G. Wells said, “If anything is possible, then nothing is interesting.”

“If anything is possible, then nothing is interesting.”

-H.G. Wells

The Crimes of Grindelwald is a mess.

I guess I’ll end this like I end all my reviews:

You should watch this movie if: you shouldn’t. Even if you’re what us book snobs call a “casual” fan, it’s not even a good movie. It’s confusing, loud, over-the-top, and falls into trope after trope of lousy storytelling. Save your money. If you’re a die-hard Harry Potter fan like me and you must see it, rent it when it comes out instead.

Or buy the screenplay. That’s what I’m going to do. I honestly think I could watch this movie 20 times and still have no idea what’s going on. I’m hopeful the screenplay illuminates some of the hazier points for me, but I’m not holding my breath.

All that being said, I still love Harry Potter. I’m still going to see the next Fantastic Beasts. And I still follow J.K. Rowling on Twitter. This wasn’t a good movie, but Harry Potter is still a beautiful universe that welcomes me home every time I open one of the books or watch one of the movies.

Just not this one.

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