Review – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

by Armando Vanegas

For as financially and culturally successful as the Harry Potter books and movies were, the first Fantastic Beasts movie seemed to have the shelf life of a forgettable CBS procedural, which might actually be redundant. It was somehow really successful but it seems to not really have any cultural relevance. Like I remember seeing it, but in the words of one of my favorite podcasts, Blank Check with Griffin and David, it’s not a movie that exists. This theory is also supported by the fact that that no one else seems to ever talk about it enough to stand out in anyone’s memory. Aside from the beasts, Colin Farrell as the villain, and Dan Fogler as Jacob, I’m hard pressed to find anything that stood out in that previous movie.

Honestly, I’m not even sure Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, exists. To be more specific, it half exists as there are semblances of a fun fantasy adventure in here. The first movie was a too dry and too unsubtle yet watchable allegory on racism and persecution that occasionally had some beasts that you could find. This installment seemed to kick into high gear and tried to convince me that they learned from their mistakes. But then, it got too overzealous and added enough plot that could make enough foreground and background dialogue to fill up a whole Robert Altman movie. It’s frustrating because for all they got right this time around, they managed to still find a way to screw it up. However, it’s watchable even if the movie manages to lose the plot by the end.

One of the positives I can say is that Newt was a more interesting character. I thought that he was a wet noodle in the first one and they didn’t know what to do with him. This time around, he’s a lot more outgoing and interesting. His whole fascination with the beasts was further explored and I could understand it more. It also felt like there were more beasts than I saw in the first one and it was cool seeing all these weird creatures come out of nowhere. They still have nothing to do with the main plot of the movie but they give the movie the classic feeling of wonder and imagination that the Harry Potter series was chock full of. My new appreciation for Newt also helps that he’s stuck with Jacob, the human from the first movie as well as one of its highlights, as they go on a new adventure. I actually would’ve been fine with this being the main crux of the movie because it felt like a more intimate low key story with these far more interesting characters that still would fit in the Harry Potter universe. This particular arc also does what a lot of the best prequels does in that it actually manages to expand on its story while actually having some sufficient character development. The same can be said about the relationship between human Jacob and wizard Queenie, which was one of the better things of the last movie. When an argument causes Jacob and Queenie to be apart for a little while, this results in the aforementioned mission to find her. They also use this time to also look for Katherine Waterston returning as Tina, who’s helping the Ministry look for Creedence, a young boy with magical powers from the first film, played by Ezra Miller. Another wizard named Grindelwald, played by Johnny Depp, also wants him so he can get him do evil things while getting all his fellow wizards to be on his side and be evil for reasons. I didn’t really understand or care much about this character because Johnny Depp played him as if he was “The Riddler,” but if the riddles were confusing and underdeveloped. Every time he’s on screen, he sounds like a glorified WWE promo. In this instance, WWE stands for World Wizarding Entertainment. There’s not even like cool henchmen that the good wizards have to battle along the way before facing Grindelwald, which is apt for an adventure movie like this.

Jude Law as Dumbledore is very good, but this is more of an opportunity to call back to the original Harry Potter movies thanks to the numerous cuts to Hogwarts, which was admittedly nice to see again. He’s cool when he gets to do stuff and I hope there’s more of him to see. The relationship between him and Grindelwald seems complex even if they tend to avoid the obvious implication, due to the homosexuality that the news reports had mentioned. I’d actually like more of that as it seem like there’s a lot of ground to cover but of course, they don’t seem interesting judging from what I heard. There’s probably shades of gray in terms of the characters’ morality and complex ideas that would be intriguing material to cover. There’s enough there to give these movies enough to make for 3 more movies because that’s what we have left.

 

That brings me to another problem. We have 3 more movies for this franchise and this movie made me wonder if they really know what they’re doing. It felt overstuffed, but understandably they have some big plans for this series and I guess it’s good that they got all the things out that they wanted. But we have more than enough story here. The question is do all of them matter and if this going to be worth when we reach the end of the series? While there’s some interesting story lines, others felt like unnecessary additions to pad out the run time. There’s a trip to the Ministry of Magic that introduced new characters because apparently, this movie didn’t have enough to deal with. We meet Newt’s brother and an old acquaintance of his as they’re used to help us get to know Newt more. I get that it’s an important part of the movie but how it comes together in the movie didn’t really work. The Ministry of Magic also plays into bureaucracy that no one was asking for in a movie about wizards and magic. Other characters also show up out of nowhere to do nothing other than to announce they’re here and add nothing to the movie. It results in the movie feeling like filler at times and I really hope all the unnecessary fat included here will pay off in the future movies. For a movie about two opposing sides trying to battle the other, it never really makes a good point for why either side has their beliefs or why they should be relevant to all the problems the characters are having. All you need to know is that the good people are good and the bad people are bad. Once the ending comes around, you wonder if this is all going to matter and maybe it does. Whatever happened in the ending was such a mess that I had to wonder if some important scenes went missing due to a theater gaffe of some kind. It gets really insane and incoherent but entertaining so. So much things just happen that I wasn’t too sure if we got to all the steps that went from A to Z. It was so out of left field that my cousin and I looked at each other in bewilderment as to wonder what just happened. It looked interesting but it didn’t really come together in a narratively successful way. That said, it wasn’t boring.

This movie actually started pretty well as it was more streamlined and the characters were more compelling than the first movie. Unfortunately, it gets to a point where there’s too much story for its own good. By the end, I legitimately had no idea was happening. Director David Yates has a lot of chances to have fun with the story, but it feels too hollow and bland in its presentation to really make it rise above passable. I hope next time, writer J.K. Rowling is able to offer a more confident and streamlined story. But don’t add any more new story line or characters, J.K. because you got enough. It’s watchable if you’re a Harry Potter fan but even then, it doesn’t make for a totally satisfying experience.

I am giving Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald a 2.5 out of 5 Hairpieces!

 

 

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