Let me start this off by saying Happy New Year everyone, and for most, good riddance to 2020.
This movie review is later than I intended, and there are a couple of reasons for that. The most consequential of which is that I wasn’t sure how to approach this one. A full week after I watched this movie, I’m still not entirely sure what I think of it.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, is the second chapter in the Fantastic Beasts film series. It released in November of 2018 to mixed reviews. It’s got a 36% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 5.3/10. It earned $654 million on a $200 million budget. While that does make it profitable, it underperformed compared to expectations, and it’s the lowest earning movie in the Wizarding World franchise (Prisoner of Azkaban is the second lowest, at $796 million).
Shortly before the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Warner Bros announced that Fantastic Beasts would at least be a trilogy, with the second set to release in 2018, and the third to be released in 2020. Well, that clearly isn’t happening, as filming for the third chapter began quite recently. Production began for Crimes of Grindelwald, and right away they wanted to head in a completely different direction for the sequel. In any case, they are hoping for a 5-film series.
Jonny Depp, who appeared briefly in the first movie as Grindelwald, was announced as cast for the sequel, despite some domestic violence allegations coming out at the time. J.K. Rowling announced that he would not be recast, as both Depp and his now ex-wife Amber Heard both said at the time that they hoped a mutual agreement would allow both of them to continue with their careers unharmed. Of this, Depp said in 2018, “I’ll be honest with you, I felt bad for J.K. having to field all these various feelings from people out there. I felt bad that she had to take that.”
That situation turned into quite a bit of a mess since then. Leaked audio tapes show that Heard was probably guilty of domestic abuse herself, and it just sounds like that entire relationship was toxic and doomed from the start. By no means does that mean Depp is innocent. Despite how they both seem equally guilty, Depp is being let go from a number of studios, while Heard’s career is going ahead just fine. I generally try to stay out of this sort of thing on this blog, but the way that Hollywood is handling this situation feels a bit … misguided. I don’t know enough about their case to say anything definitive as I generally try not to follow celebrity gossip, but I can’t help but think that dropping Depp for the third Fantastic Beasts movie might end up hurting it financially in the long run. He’s got a lot of defenders out there (not saying I’m one of them).
We’ve already seen how the live-action Mulan and its connection to the Uighur Muslim “re-education” camps negatively affected its sales numbers on Disney +. We’ve already seen fan backlash affect box office numbers for movies like the Ghostbusters remake, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Birds of Prey, and several of the newer CW DC TV Shows. I don’t know what the right solution is here, but with some of the backlash towards J.K. Rowling going on right now, and the mediocre reception towards this movie, I’m starting to wonder if this Fantastic Beasts franchise will survive past the third movie. It seems like at the moment, there’s backlash hitting the Fantastic Beasts franchise from both political extremes.
But like I said, I generally try not to follow these things closely, nor do I let real world politics and gossip affect my enjoyment for movies, books, video games or any of that. Well, unless politics are tossed to the point where they actively hurt the storytelling. Let me be clear, that’s not one of the problems with this movie. It’s got plenty of other issues, but we’ll get to that.
Unlike the first Fantastic Beasts movie, this mostly takes place in England, with several scenes in Paris, France. As such, most of the filming took place in the UK and Paris. Among the new cast members, you’ve got Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange, who seems to be a former flame of Newt Scamander’s. I honestly didn’t get much of an impression from her character in this movie, other than how she appears to still be pining for him. There’s Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander, Newt’s older brother, an Auror, and considered a hero for his work in the First World War. He’s not a bad character, but he’s not in the movie enough for the audience to really get to know him. He’s got different beliefs from Newt, he’s engaged to Leta, and that’s about it. Jude Law joins the cast as a young Dumbledore, and he brings the same sense of dignity to the role as Michael Gambon did, but not quite as much personality (probably because it’s a relatively small role here).
There’s also Claudia Kim as Nagini. Yes, Lord Voldemort’s friend snake is revealed to be affected by a blood curse that will eventually turn her into a snake, permanently. It’s an interesting idea, but by design, really doesn’t say much. Most of her personality is shown through body language and the choices she makes. The last cast member I’ll talk about was actually in the first movie. Ezra Miller plays Credence Barebone, who in the first movie was abused by his adoptive, magic fearing mother. This abuse got him infected with an Obscurus parasite that would normally end up killing its infected host by 12 or so, but Credence not only survived into adulthood, but even learned how to control his obscurus. Outside of the main cast, he probably puts in the best performance in the movie. He shows a lot of emotional range, and is especially good at cold rage, shame, and determination.
Now for my overall thoughts on the movie.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a mess. There are definitely some good points, like Newt continuing to be entertaining in his oddities. Tina and Queenie Goldstein both return, as does Jacob (the no-maj). Queenie and Jacob have developed a charming relationship, which ends up being one of this movie’s high points. The love, uh … square between Newt and his brother, Tina and Leta, is a bit messier. The love square does at least end with the movie though, and in a way that would have been satisfying if we got to know Leta better.
But the real problem with this movie is the story. It doesn’t really feel like a movie, but more like three or so episodes in a TV series with a number of different plot threads going on at once. You’ve got the various romances getting in the way of the main plot. You’ve got Credence’s story of self-discovery that, while good, feels incomplete. You’ve got Grindelwald trying to build an army that will eventually lead to his uprising that would last until the end of the Second World War. There’s Newt’s own story about whether he’ll take a side or not, and the potential legal consequences of not picking a side. There’s a subplot introduced where Dumbledore and Grindelwald had some sort of relationship in the past, which is preventing Dumbledore from directly taking Grindelwald on.
All of these different plot threads make Crimes of Grindelwald hard to follow at times. It’s also hard to feel anything when none of these stories get a proper focus. The movie doesn’t even feel like it has a proper ending. Instead, it feels like a cliffhanger. That in itself wouldn’t be a problem if the rest of the movie felt like a complete story, like Empire Strikes Back, or Avengers: Infinity War. With Rowling as the only writer for this movie, it’s almost as if she tried to stuff an entire novel into a single movie, when that’s not how movies are supposed to work. There are definitely some good ideas in here, but none of them are given enough time to develop properly. The script needed some serious rewrites to trim the fat, preferably with a writer more experienced with the movie industry.
I’m not sure what else to say about this one. It’s hard to come up with any strong feelings when it doesn’t feel like a complete movie. The first Fantastic Beasts movie feels like a complete experience. It’s a satisfying one-off with a slightly open ending. With the possible exception of Deathly Hallows Part 1, all of the Harry Potter movies have a complete story with a clear beginning and end. Even with Part 1, it’s at least easy to follow, there are complete character arcs, and there’s a definitive breaking point between Part 1 and Part 2.
If you haven’t seen Crimes of Grindelwald, I wouldn’t recommend it. I’d instead suggest you wait for the third movie before you bother with this one. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is still an easy recommendation as a charming, entertaining spin-off. But at least for now, just stick with that one. It’s been reported that writer Steve Kloves (7 of the 8 Harry Potter movies) is returning to help Rowling write the third movie, which will hopefully help focus the story better.
January will be Sean Connery Month, and I’ll start with Never Say Never Again, Connery’s unofficial 7th Bond movie. I’ll also be looking at Finding Forrester and The Untouchables. I won’t spoil the last one, but it’ll be weird.