By: Kevin Jordan
Not your kids’ Wizarding World.
Remember way back in 2001 when a young Daniel Radcliffe charmed us all in a kid’s film based on a children’s book? We thought the first Harry Potter film was a good family affair, even if it did contain snakes, child abuse, and a creepy guy eating unicorns and living on another creepy guy’s skull. Ok, so we were not the best judges of family movies, but it was a Christopher Columbus film, the king of family movies. I mean, Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, Adventures in Babysitting…huh. Wow. We are kind of fucked up. Well, at least none of those featured a baby being murdered like in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Yes, I know Voldemort tried to kill a baby, but he failed. Attempted murder is okay in family movies. Or something.
(Mild SPOILERS ahead, unless you are a Potterhead and have read every rumor on every Potter forum on every Internet. Or something.)
In case I was not clear in the previous paragraph, The Crimes of Grindelwald is not a children’s movie. In the first ten minutes of the film, multiple wizards are killed and another has his tongue removed. To be fair, we do not see the actual tongue removal and we barely see the killings (due to the cinematography being performed in either black or really dark gray), but the body count and gruesome factor of this film really hit the ground running. A few minutes after the opening scene, a family is murdered, including a baby. Again, this film is PG-13, so we do not actually see the infanticide or any blood to speak of, but J.K. Rowling has gotten really dark.
I will give you three guesses, but you will only need one.
This being a sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we are reacquainted with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who is trying to get his international travel ban rescinded (which was put in place after half of New York City was destroyed in the previous film). While at the ministry of magic, we also meet Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), who is an auror, and Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), who is an assistant to the head of magical law enforcement. While Newt is pleading his case to lift the ban, the panel of wizards hearing his case offer to lift the ban on the condition Newt agree to become an auror and help hunt down the now-escaped Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). Newt refuses, even though everyone in the theater knows he is going to end up joining the hunt, and in another country, no less. If Rowling’s writing is anything, it’s comically predictable.
Eventually, the rest of the gang from the previous film shows up, including auror Tina (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and Queenie’s boyfriend Jacob (Dan Fogler). Even though I previously wrote that I hoped they all would return for a sequel, I kind of wish they hadn’t. Queenie and Jacob are forced to play out an insipid relationship spat where she is mad at him for refusing to violate laws that would result in her going to prison. For all the charm they exuded in the first film, this film treated the two of them like a wad of chaw. And, they were not the only characters stuck with a dumb romance problem. Tina is upset at Newt because she misunderstood a newspaper article about Leta being engaged to a Scamander. Read past the title. I told you Rowling has gotten really dark, which now apparently includes portraying women as dipshits.
She is standing there, holding a human head!
Putting the relationship nonsense aside, I did enjoy much of the film for the first act and a half. The film features a few really cool new creatures (one named Nagina, portrayed by Kim Soo-hyun, also known as Claudia Kim) and a great action sequence with Credence (Ezra Miller), whom also returns from the previous film. If the film had stuck with the whole Fantastic Beasts concept and woven that into the main narrative, this film would have been great. Instead, the film screeches to a deafening halt near the end of the second act when Leta and another auror vomit twenty minutes of exposition to explain to Credence that they do not know who Credence’s parents are (Credence’s entire story arc in this film is to ID his parents). Not to be outdone, Grindelwald immediately follows that with more exposition in a speech to a crowded arena where he channels his inner Magneto, wondering why wizards are not currently running the world and ruling over the non-wizards. Yes, this is the same dead horse of a topic that Rowling stomped into glue during the Harry Potter films, and, yes, but that horse was not a fantastic beast. I think.
Can you please be done talking?
As always, Rowling is simply out of her league when it comes to weaving social and political allegories into her stories (the parallels with the current American and European problems with racism and nationalist-bigotry are obvious) and this film is no exception. The film also suffers from smaller issues, like lighting that makes much of the film very difficult to see (the opening fight scene was probably awesome to watch if you are an owl), wizards who often forget they no magic (a running theme of the entire franchise), and relating nearly every character to something in the Harry Potter films, including the atrocious big reveal at the end that is complete nonsense. Similar to Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Crimes of Grindelwald will scratch your itch for a new franchise entry, but still manages to leave you with a rash. Or something.
Rating: Ask for eight dollars back and a new writer for the next sequel.
By: Kevin Jordan
The Harry Potter universe is like having a dog. At first, it’s very exciting. For the first few months, you have a lot of fun. You go to sleep happy and look forward to the next day. Everything is fresh. Eventually though, the novelty wears off, but if you’re lucky you have a well-behaved dog that doesn’t crap behind the couch when you’re not looking. You have a pleasant relationship that falls into a routine for a few years, with only the normal hiccups along the way. When the end starts to draw near, the poor dog is slowly and aimlessly wandering around the house and you wonder if it’s time to take the dog to the proverbial farm. When it’s over, you miss your friend, but you’re in no hurry to get another dog. A few years later, a friend offers you a puppy from their litter and you accept because you remember how much you liked your previous dog. Is that a tortured metaphor? Yes it is. But it’s also apt. It’s been five years since the last Harry Potter movie and you definitely wouldn’t mind a new movie set in the same universe as long as it’s not actually another Harry Potter movie and as long as it doesn’t crap behind your couch.
I reread my reviews of the last three Harry Potter movies and the final one is far funnier now. I sarcastically lamented that Harry Potter was over forever and not only do we have a new movie (albeit one that has nothing to do with Potter), but multiple additional stories have been written, including a play. Like I said, that review was sarcastic – I didn’t actually want more Potterverse, especially if J.K. Rowling was doing the writing – so I guess I got what I deserved. Not that I didn’t expect it to happen. Rowling is a one-hit wonder and a fame-junky; of course she wasn’t going to stop. And that’s not even a bad thing, but she insisted that book seven would be the end. Plenty of authors live in their singular literary worlds for decades (hello George R. R. Martin), but they usually don’t keep telling us how they are done with it while continue to write more of it. But, like I said, we remember the movies were at least fun until the last couple, so getting a new one is probably okay after five years. And this one turned out to be pretty okay, but not without its flaws.
The good guys.
(I never read the book this movie was based on, so I don’t know if anything in the movie can be considered a SPOILER. But here’s your SPOILER warning anyway.)
Fantastic Beasts is set decades before Harry Potter, but not so many decades that there aren’t still connections to Potter. If you think Rowling can go an entire story without mentioning Dumbledore, as is done in this film, you haven’t been paying attention (and can someone please explain to me why Rowling is obsessed with Dumbledore’s sexual preference?). Anyway, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has travelled from London to New York in search of someone who can help him breed a particular rare and magical beast. Newt carries with him a suitcase containing what can only be described as a portal to his personal zoo. For whatever reason, this suitcase has some serious security flaws in that creatures can escape when it is open. But only sometimes. It doesn’t make sense, but you just have to accept it.
While chasing around one of his escaped critters, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), a former auror, arrests Newt for violating a magical law. She takes him to the unimaginatively named MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) for processing, but they ignore the both of them and send them on their way. However, one auror, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) takes an interest in Newt’s case and demands to see inside it. When they open it, it’s filled with pastries and Newt realizes that a non-magical person (also unimaginatively referred to as no-maj’s), Jacob (Dan Fogler), accidentally switched cases with him. Much of the movie is then spent with Newt, Jacob, and Tina trying to round up the rest of Newt’s creatures. This is the fun part of the movie and enjoyable part of the movie. As it turns out, the beasts really don’t have anything to do with the actual plot of this movie, which is pretty much par for the course with Rowling’s stuff.
We’re looking for some lost animals. Dangerous? No – they’re fine.
Backing up all the way to the beginning, the movie starts by showing us newspaper articles of a dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald running amok. This occurs some indeterminate amount of time prior to the actual events of this movie, but Grindelwald basically vanishes without a trace. Cut to the events of this film and if you can’t guess who Grindelwald is within the first five minutes of the film, then you’ve never seen a movie in your life. If that’s true, welcome – movies are fun.
Graves has been tasked with tracking down a mysterious force that is rampaging through the city. Crossing paths with Newt provides a convenient excuse to lay the blame on Newt and his creatures while he continues his search for the real culprit. Now, just in case you missed the previous SPOILER ALERT, you might want to avert your eyes – Graves is up to no good. This is almost comically obvious from the moment you see his slicked-backed black hair, aka the Slytherin look, to his manipulation of Credence (Ezra Miller), a young man he only meets with in alleys as he tries to find the MacGuffin. I mean, as he tries to find the rampaging force that will allow him to start a war between muggles (I refuse to use the other term) and wizards. Yes, he is most definitely a precursor to Voldemort, but without the big snake. Graves also appears to be quite powerful, so one wonders why he needs the force to start a war when he could just…start a war without it.
If I was a good guy, would we be meeting in an alley?
So, if you’re counting, this movie has two separate plots that only intersect at the end and a third subplot that I didn’t even bother wasting your time with (Credence’s mom beats him and is on a literal witch hunt to expose the wizarding world). Even knowing all that, the movie is still quite entertaining. Until the end, that is.
Two things happen at the end of the film that, in my opinion, were awful artistic choices and were really the only two things I didn’t like about this movie. The first involves Jacob and the President of MACUSA insisting that his memory must be wiped, no exceptions. Considering a theme of this movie is discrimination between the wizards and muggles, accepting a muggle into the wizarding community seems like a good first step towards resolving that issue. Unfortunately, it’s easier to Brexit the decision. I mean Trump the decision. I mean put your head in the sand and continue discriminating for no reason other than bias. The worst part of this choice is that Jacob is the most interesting and endearing character in the entire movie and the movie immediately decides to go back on the decision by walking Tina’s sister into Jacob’s bakery (the two were basically in love by the end of the ordeal).
The second is the inclusion of Johnny Depp. I’m not annoyed that Johnny Depp got to be in this film, it’s how he was inserted. (Again, SPOILER) When Graves is finally captured, his face changes into Grindelwald’s and it’s Johnny Depp. Why? WHY? And how shitty does Colin Farrell feel about this move? They are almost literally telling Farrell that he is an inferior version of Depp. Just, ouch.
I realize that this review sounds pretty negative, but I enjoyed the vast majority of this movie, even with the weak plot lines. The characters were all very good and the actors really brought them to life. Fogler and Waterston were especially fun to watch and I hope we get to see more of them in future movies. Heck, even in a future sequel to this movie (which you know is coming) because we just got this new puppy. Just keep it out from behind the couch.
Rating: Ask for a dollar back. The end is just inexcusable.