Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald is one of the best shows of magic in all of the Wizarding World films. That does not mean it is the best movie by far, matter of fact it’s basically on the same par as the first Fantastic Beasts, with a few more interesting moments. This is contrary to many of my followers beliefs because I do enjoy the Fantastic Beasts series! I think they are entertaining and an exciting deeper look into the lore of Harry Potter and the Wizarding World that J.K. Rowling has created.
With Crimes of Grindelwald, I see even more than the last that J.K. should not be writing screenplays. It is one thing to write novels and create worlds, birth characters, but it is another to create cinematic story lines and plots.It doesn’t always translate! That said, director David Yates having directed several of the Harry Potter films did a wonderful job with what he was given.
Fantastic Magic and Where to See It
Warning: Spoilers abound! The film takes place about 6 months after Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Off the bat, I have to say that connecting all the intersecting threads of this narrative is a top tier level of difficulty for the purposes of reviewing. So read on with caution. A note that if you want to be completely surprised when you view the film: I suggest refreshing your memory of the Harry Potter lore and characters and heading to the theater before reading this.
That said, we see Grindelwald reprised by Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean), Editor’s Note: SIGH. held captive within the U.S. Ministry of Magic but now being transferred back to London. The next few scenes show just how amazingly skilled Grindelwald is, truly an all-powerful wizard. Using spells without incantation, his sheer will makes things happen and has people following and doing his bidding. His influence is seen for sure in new characters, Abernathy played by Kevin Guthrie (Dunkirk) and Rosier played by Poppy Corby-Tuech (The Royals) Grindelwald’s right and left hands willing to do anything. I was very excited to see this show of skill, I don’t think we’ve ever really seen wizards wield magic as Grindelwald does nor magic like this seen in the other films.
The same is that of Newt Scamander still played by Eddie Redmayne (Theory of Everything) of course, but what a silent talent. We see Newt using his creatures and knowledge of spells to track, protect, and capture great beasts. He uses magic to find Tina and free new magical beings in a way that made you think of him as the hottest draft pick you’d want on your team. No wonder Dumbledore seeks his assistance in bringing Grindelwald down. Don’t sleep on Newt Scamander! The magic of this film is truly fantastic, I am ecstatic about the direction these effects, spells and shows of talent these films have taking. It has even taken a darker turn, we thought Voldemort had bodies on bodies, well… I won’t say more.
Johnny Depp does a fantastic job, it is rare we get to see Depp play a straight villain (pun intended). We expect Grindelwald to be the totalitarian evil, one to inspire a Tom Riddle aka Lord Voldemort. He is… but he isn’t! I was pleasantly surprised by the impetus of his fight which makes the lead up to this first war (of the wizarding world) one that may be quite valid based on the restrictions and oppressive nature of the wizarding world at the time. Depp is great as the menacing and dark villain yet justified.
But what of our group of friends? We see Newt at the UK Ministry trying to repeal his ban on international travel, yea they banned him on international travel after the debacle in New York. His brother Theseus Scamander played by Callum Turner (Assassin’s Creed) tries to get him to take a deal, become an auror and they will lift the ban, something Newt is not down for.
The storyline is based on a manhunt for Credence portrayed by Ezra Miller (Justice League), yes as the last film left you feeling he may have survived – he did! Now there is speculation of who his true birth family is which may be very important for the fight against or for Grindelwald because they are all after him. Tina who is an auror now is after him to protect him, the UK ministry is after to kill him and Grindelwald’s people to recruit him. The whole film you are trying to figure out who he is, there are little hints and possibly some connection to Leta Lestrange played by Zoe Kravitz (MadMax: Fury Road).
Enchantment Spell and Forbidden Love
After Newt’s visit to the Ministry, unexpectedly Queenie portrayed once again by by Alison Sudol (Dan in Real Life) and Jacob played by Dan Fogler (The Goldbergs) arrive in London at Newt’s home. Without giving much more away (as in why does Jacob even remember any of them) there is a conflict in the wizarding world in which wizards cannot be in relation with nor marry muggles. This creates such a riff between Jacob and Queenie both very much in love with each other but Jacob not wanting to send Queenie to Azkaban, says they can’t be together.
Meanwhile, Newt hasn’t seen Tina portrayed by Katherine Waterston (Alien: Covenant) for these past three months and hasn’t even been able to say how he feels. For me their love story did not prove to be very interesting but I know for other folks in the fandom, people may find it a sweet depiction. I bring this up because the story pseudo revolves around love stories of course. The only love stories that really hit me in the feels contributed to the bigger picture the most in my viewing involved was Queenie, portrayed by Alison Sudol (Transparent) because their civil rights play a big part and of course, Albus and Gellert.
The handling of that love affair did portray it on the big screen but it was a lacking one. I wanted an exploration of the relationship, I wanted more. Ultimately I was let down. Questions arose: was this a decision that the studios and big wigs thought would possibly lose some audiences? At this point, I really was all or nothing– Just let them kiss! Just give folks a look at a love story that stands out of the de facto heterosexual realm! You never see Dumbledore played by, Jude Law (The Young Pope) with Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald, rather you see them in flashbacks as young “closer than brothers” type of friends. Jude Law is a wonderful young Dumbledore, knowing where his story goes makes you enjoy Law’s portrayal even more. Even the reveal of the reason why Dumbledore and Grindelwald cannot fight each other goes which apparently goes beyond love– which was interesting but still a lukewarm reveal. Maybe, just maybe an actual in-depth, developed love story between the two in the movies to come in the next installment?
Attempting to follow the narrative that this film presents was confusing. Disclosure: while I may not have read the books, I’m not a stranger to the overall world that J.K. Rowling has created and the fandom that comes with it. I know the movies and know the characters well, but after this film, I had to do some research to attempt to fill in the holes in my understanding. The truth is, even with the research on my parts–the movie is convoluted and its shape and directions unclear. We are introduced to some characters we know, and some who we’ve never heard of before. In a prologue series, this can be difficult as it can make a film too cluttered. It can also leave an audience with the minimalist amount of intrigue while trying to make sense of what they’ve just watched.
For instance, we are introduced to Claudia Kim’s Nagini who we all never knew was an animagus. This was probably the biggest intrigue from the trailer for me, yet was not explored in the slightest. Maybe the story of Nagini will be fleshed out in the following films, but it didn’t seem to be that important in the grand scheme of things. The same for Katherine Waterston’s Tina, she had very little screen time compared to the first film, certainly not enough time to become a fan favorite. Her character really found ways to make everything more difficult trying to prove herself which was unfortunate and something I’d accrue to the writing. I was more interested in the growth of this character, but in this film, her growth was off-paneled, which did not make me get closer to her in the series.
Sadly the deathly hallows got the same treatment. We are introduced to Nicola Flamel and the philosopher’s stone aka sorcerer’s stone gets a quick cameo, and the elder wand as well. I know it may not be a film about the deathly hallows but I thought we’d get the allure of it all sprinkled across the foundation of the films to keep the intrigue strong. I was rather underwhelmed, but want to see how it pans out in future films.
What we did see was Leta Lestrange and her relationship to the Scamanders. I say that plurally because Newt is her boarding school sweetheart but his brother Theseus is her current fiancé. We get to learn a bit more about her, but I’m still working my head around her family tree and it was literally physically shown to us! Her story is very intertwined with the plot of this film, I would go deeper into it but I’d give away some stuff I don’t want to. Let’s just say, she’s a classic tortured soul, and I kind of wish she wasn’t…
Black Nerd Problems
The treatment of people of color was something I did not enjoy. At All. I was happy to see some brown and Black faces – more than before, but being as vague as I can it didn’t leave me with the best feeling. Also the initial casting reveal of Nagini by Rowling on twitter did not go over smoothly by many fans and critics. One of the most unsettling parts of the films featured one of the black women characters is lured under the imperius curse made to marry and have relations with a white man because she was seen as just so beautiful.
The exoticism, dare I say fetishism, of that particular storyline, is astounding. To be fair to try to place it in the framework of reminding myself of the treatment people of color in a world that the early 1900’s…it’s frustrating to want to see yourself represented on screen in a fandom you love and see these type of storyline that just seems lazy. I just want to exist differently in cinema, you know? It’s beyond representation these days, it’s just about having the tenacity and skill to blend time period and innovative storytelling to push boundaries of conventional ways people of color are presented in film.
Not sure J.K. Rowling has the chops to be able to do this and bring quality. Perhaps she really needs another screenwriter to come along who can give her more insight and who has screenwriting experience to build a better cinematic expression of the Wizarding World.
In this film offering, there is often too much exposition, some scenes that feel like throwaways and storylines as I said that are convoluted making the movie seem like some sort of mishmash.
The bad thing is we can’t read the next chapter to make it all make sense, but each film in the Fantastic Beasts series is like a written chapter and we just keep wanting to read on, when in reality films should have a clear end that leaves you on a longing path more excited about the next film than before. The end of this made me feel like I was taken all over timelines, bloodlines and continents without an exciting through line to keep me wanting more.
I know I’m going to see it again, to just hopefully get a little clarity on the plot lines to help branch together what I may have missed and what I still don’t understand.
If you’re a fan of the series and plan to go see it if you haven’t already: Go see it, you’ll probably like it, but be prepared to be confused on a spectrum of a little to a lot.
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