Continuing the spinoff series that nobody asked for, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second installment in the Fantastic Beasts franchise that keeps teasing the showdown between Grindelwald and Dumbledore. It keeps confusing me. Why is this series even called Fantastic Beasts? At least the Harry Potter movies were actually about the boy who lived; unless Dumbledore and Grindelwald are going to have an aerial dogfight on top of dragons and Hippogriffs, I don’t see why the Fantastic Beasts part should have any relevance.
I didn’t hate the first Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as much as everyone else. On the contrary, I liked it overall, though the rather uneven tonal contrasts between different plot lines were a bit jarring. Despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed the film, and I was interested to see where the sequel was going to take audiences next.
Now that I’ve seen the movie, I would also like to take producer J.K. Rowling and director David Yates somewhere — I want to throw them in the deepest cell in Azkaban and get them far away from their pens, paper and megaphones.
The premise of the movie is that Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has broken out of prison and is now gathering his host of dark followers and looking for Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who survived in the last movie. To counter this, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) sends Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to Paris in order to find Credence and stop whatever plans Grindelwald has. At the same time, Newt is also on a mission to speak to Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) to try to restore their estranged relationship, and takes Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) — who’s also in search of his own sweetheart — with him. Meanwhile, Credence is on the search for his heritage, along with Nagini (Claudia Kim), a woman he met at a circus freak show. As Credence appears in Paris, Grindelwald, Tina and Newt all move to find him, along with a host of the British Ministry of Magic Aurors, led by Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) and his fiancée Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), and holy gargoyles, my head is about to explode.
I think the main problem of the film speaks for itself; there’s too much going on. Far, far too much. There are so many different plot lines, all with different characters and agendas that trying to straighten it out into a coherent narrative is impossible.
Some of them don’t even properly carry over from the last movie. Newt and Tina ended the first movie as close friends at best. Yet in this movie Newt is yearning for her like a Niffler after a diamond, and Tina is apparently jealous because she heard the false information that Newt is engaged.
Credence, with barely any explanation as to how he survived, is now traveling with Nagini, a woman cursed to transform into a snake each day — and yes, she is exactly who you think she is. But how did they meet and become companions? Why is Nagini helping Credence? She seems to care for Credence a lot, but the movie never gives enough time to explain why.
The ministry officials chasing after Credence and Grindelwald’s followers are equally as confusing and another group of people the film doesn’t take the time to explore.
What makes this unholy Berty-Bott’s-Every-Flavor-Beans mix of a plot even more confounding is the number of people and props that seem to be thrown in purely for the fans to gasp at. Whether that’s the origin story of Voldermort’s snake Nagini or Dumbledore teaching students the Ridikulus spell that appears in The Prisoner of Azkaban, there’s a lot of Easter-Egg moments for fans. But there’s no rising action or sense of climax. There’s no investment in the characters, no buildup, no suspense, no smooth transition from one scene to another. This isn’t a story so much as it is an amalgamation of various scenes with differing plots, messages and tones that just don’t work together.
What’s even more infuriating is that there are still glimmers of legitimately good moments in the film. Credence’s character arc, despite being brutally cut short here, is still an adequate journey for him, and is easily the story I was most invested in. The story surrounding Jacob and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol)’s Muggle-wizard relationship was also done well in conjunction with Grindelwald’s rise, and that’s one plot line I actually would like to see in future sequels.
Then there’s Grindelwald, who carries enough charisma and composure to impress, and whose ideology is something that is legitimately interesting and could have worked with more time put into it.
What good they could have done for the plot is pushed aside to make room for Newt and Tina, which is entirely unnecessary. That’s not to say that the actors are at any fault, but of all the people in this movie, they are the most irrelevant, despite being main characters. Newt’s continued relationships with his beasts is admittedly endearing, but they have absolutely no correlation with the rest of the movie whatsoever, and Tina is frankly disposable.
They tried to make a universe before making a movie by cramming in far too many plot lines and characters, ending with some of the most contrived series of twists and turns in the entire Harry Potter film series.
The best part about Rowling’s wizarding world was that it was bursting with unexpected fun at every corner. But these films weren’t even technically impressive, and, after six of his Harry Potter universe movies, I can confidently say that I absolutely despise David Yates’ artistic direction. Not only was there a bizarrely gray and dismal color palette, but the overuse of into-the-camera shots was distracting, the computer-generated imaging (CGI) beasts didn’t really work and the poor lighting completely ruined many scenes — most notably the opening aerial action sequence, which was of the few good parts of the movie.
I would try to end this on a positive note, but honestly, I just feel drained. After the criticism that the initial Fantastic Beasts received, I am baffled as to why Rowling and Yates made the same mistakes again, on an even greater scale this time.
If you are a Harry Potter series fan, you deserve far, far better than this. You deserve actual passion in the content you receive, some semblance of real fun and excitement. All this movie gives to fans and newcomers alike is the sensation of being forced to eat a handful of earwax-flavored Every Flavored Beans, only to find out it’s actual earwax.