REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald [Spoiler Free]

If I were to open my wardrobe to find a boggart, I guarantee it would take shape of the Fantastic Beasts film series.

In the late 1920s, magizoologist Newt Scamander is tasked by his old professor, Albus Dumbledore, to travel to Paris in order to confront the villainous Gellert Grindelwald who continues to amass his forces.

I am spellbound… and not in a good way. I cannot comprehend the anger, the misery, the bubbling of all things negative and torturous swirling around my mind at this very moment. For it has been a few hours since I saw Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and I already am considering it my most disliked film of 2018.

People – my readers – I must warn you now that this review will be long. I cannot stress this enough, that I have a lot to say about J.K. Rowling’s new entry into her “Wizarding World” franchise, so buckle in or stop reading now because I may very well be about to burst. The Crimes of Grindelwald is absolutely everything I did not want from a Harry Potter movie and consequently the reckoning of my sacred childhood. Cue rant.

As I said in my Bohemian Rhapsody review: sometimes when reviewing films it is difficult not to be bias when the subject matter is something so close to your heart. Queen, as I noted in that review, was something close to my heart, so therefore I had to take my passion into consideration when critiquing it. However beyond all things I love and cherish in this world of art and storytelling – beyond the wonder of David Bowie and ore of Studio Ghibli – what I love and cherish most in this world would have to be, without a doubt, Harry Potter. I freaking love Harry Potter.

I grew up on Harry’s adventures in the wizarding world. I remember reading the books countless times and watching the films as if no other movies existed. Tales of philosopher’s stones, chambers of secrets and half-blood princes flowed through my bloodstream as concepts on love, death, friendship, courage and imagination became key aspects to how I would grow up to view the world. Harry Potter made me what I am today and without it, well, I have no idea if I would be who I currently am. Heck, I am even one of those ride or die fans who’s first tattoo was of the Deathly Hallows symbol – THAT’S HOW MUCH YOU MEAN TO ME HP!

(Jaap Buitendijk 2018)

So, with that said and you all now knowing how deep a fan I am of Harry Potter, I hope you will understand completely how much of sh*tfest this Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald garbage really was to me and, you know what, just in general.

I was lukewarm on the original Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. I would have to at least say I liked it more than I disliked it as for a while I kept telling myself things like “it was fine”, “it was fun”, “a bit shaky but the filmmakers will find their step eventually”, “I don’t hate this movie”… but now, The Crimes of Grindelwald has made me do a complete 180 on this prequel series in general as I now have officially decided I loathe both entries in the prequel franchise including presumably the next three that Rowling has supposedly got in store for us. However, there is a special place in hell for The Crimes of Grindelwald, so just hear me out.

The biggest problem I had with Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was the fact it had no focus on what story it wanted to prioritise. Instead of having one central narrative, the movie followed two plotlines that felt badly wedged together which amounted to a real iffy ending that consequently ruined the significance of the previous events in the movie. One story followed Newt Scamander gallivanting around New York City seeking his runaway creatures whilst the other story featured the troubled child Credence Barebone in his quest to seek meaning behind his existence. The Scamander plot adhered to fun and joyful tone in line with the first few Harry Potter films but the Barebone plot aggressively contrasted it with it’s own darker and sombre tones, similar to the last few Harry Potter films. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them failed in successfully combining the two central stories and juxtaposing tones, leaving me to hope that The Crimes of Grindelwald would remedy a cure to the first film’s flaws and conjure up a wedded tone of joy and darkness in the vein of the Harry Potter series – or at least pick whether it wanted to go all joy or all dark. So what did The Crimes of Grindelwald do? Oh, well, it just added more stories, contrasted more narratives and created a tone that did not fit whatsoever.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was an abnormally convoluted and ridiculously contrived mess, all from the mind of one, J.K. Rowling. I once worshipped Rowling – the very author of my youth – but with The Crimes of Grindelwald she proves why she is not a script writer and why she did not adapt the original Harry Potter novels into their excellent film counterparts. Rowling wrote The Crimes of Grindelwald as if it were a book; heavy exposition was implored as characters spoke in the exaggerated dialogue of a novelist rather than a screenwriter’s more realist approach at writing dialogue. The movie acted as a platform for Rowling to explain elements of the wizarding world to fans and franchise newcomers.

The Crimes of Grindelwald never felt like a complete movie and instead just a series of events in between movies, almost like a vessel to get the audience from one point to the next. Character arcs did not make sense, elements of pivotal story were not explained in fulfilling ways (or at least fleshed out enough for audiences to understand) and ultimately the movie just felt like it placed so much effort into introducing characters, locations and MacGuffins that it totally forgot how to actually tell a story or follow an actual protagonist. Going back to the original series, whether you liked the Harry Potter stories or not, those tales at least followed a cohesive narrative which remained exclusive to the instalment they existed in whilst managing to smartly foreshadow things to come without completely devoting themselves to being purely set-ups. Also Harry Potter had a protagonist – it was Harry Potter! And no matter the amount of characters who would show up and the subplots the readers and audiences would follow, those stories would at least always comeback to Harry in some form or another.

Although, with these Fantastic Beasts movies it’s undeniably difficult to gather who the protagonist really is. Newt Scamander was seemingly set-up to be the series protagonist in the first film, but his lack of essentiality to the overall narrative makes him difficult to follow. Credence Barebone is another candidate for protagonist (despite the explanation for him surviving his death in the last film being brushed over so effortlessly) however the movie’s lack of attention towards him really obliterated his chance of completely taking centre stage. There’s also the muggle Jacob who in any other story would work perfectly as an entry level protagonist learning of magic in similar vein and pacing as Harry Potter did in the originals (again, despite the revelation of his return to the wizarding world, after having his mind erased in the last film, being brushed over with no concrete explanation behind it); yet, in this movie his character was completely sidelined to Newt. The obvious choice for lead, in my mind, would have been Albus Dumbeldore… but that also doesn’t work, for reasons we will get to in a minute. Point of the fact is, The Crimes of Grindelwald is not a vast, sprawling epic novel, despite thinking itself to be; films do not have the same luxury of books to go for hundreds of pages in order to get completely descriptive with countless characters and numerous storylines. The Crimes of Grindelwald is also not Avengers: Infinity War or The Lord of the Rings which were two cinema experiences that managed to attain the ambitious epic-levels of a novel due to careful character work and world building all towards a one-off event that would and could promise satisfaction in execution – those films earned the right to be big. If the Fantastic Beasts franchise wanted to juggle all their characters and storylines at once, they should have put in the work and built towards the epic novel-like scope in a later installment rather than rushing to doing so in only the second installment.

To be honest, I think the biggest problem with The Crimes of Grindelwald is a visible one; something sitting right in front of us all with which no one would like to admit to: J.K. Rowling. The genius world-builder was seemingly given free reign on the Fantastic Beasts films to do whatever she wanted and tell a story she felt would be exciting and inviting to fans of her long-running series. You see after Harry Potter ended, Warner Bros. lost a massive money maker in the magical series. The studio needed something to fill the void the Harry Potter films left after the series concluded in 2011. With their slate of DC movies not reaching the standards of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, it would seem Warner Bros. had no other alternative but to turn back to their original magical world of wizards to make a profit. And guess who had stories to tell and ideas she wanted out into the world – none other than Rowling. And I definitely do not think it’s Rowling’s fault overall how these film are turning out, but it’s obvious she was surrounded by Yes-Men who were willing to agree to anything Rowling wanted to do. Rowling wanted to return to the world of Harry Potter and she got the chance to because it was a necessary move for the studio to make. Rowling has seemingly wanted to tell this story of the war between Dumbledore and Grindelwald for a while… but she certainly is not fit enough to tell said story – at least not entirely.

The thing is that Rowling was not the first talented creator to have herself surrounded by Yes-Men after churning out a game changing franchise – anyone recall George Lucas’ Star Wars prequel trilogy or Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movies? Yeah, same thing. Both Lucas and Jackson proved themselves immensely by bringing to life the original cinema classics Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings with the former going down in history as quite possibly the most influential film franchise of all-time and the latter winning so much acclaim it even won the award for Best Picture at the Academy Awards for its final entry. So of course, when the franchises ended, the money stopped coming in and the studios came a-knocking, the creators were given a chance to expand their universes the way they saw fit, without any supervision resulting in a series of messy, self-centred, CGI heavy slogs – merely hollow reflections of their original source material. The Star Wars prequels were panned as were The Hobbit flicks – all because the creator was given free reign. And I was proud, almost confident, that Harry Potter would never be like the others. Yet, not even a decade had past (merely five years, in fact) until it was revealed Rowling would be writing her own prequel series to the originals. To Star Wars films did not kick start again until the bulk of the eighties and nineties were over and The Hobbit series at least waited till close to a decade after The Return of the King to begin again, but Fantastic Beasts was so instant after Harry Potter that audiences have still not even had the chance to completely rest on the series yet. Rowling has forcibly shoved down our throats a story that nobody wanted right now. Maybe in a couple of decades when the world needs another Harry Potter fix would the Fantastic Beasts franchise work… but not after only five years.

Rowling just should not have been given the reigns to do whatever she liked with the prequel series. The reason the original Star Wars films worked so well was because each entry was directed by someone different. Lucas’ ideas for the trilogy were discussed and worked on by many (you know Han Solo was originally meant to be giant lizard?). The Lord of the Rings films worked because Jackson had his whole cast and crew basically live in New Zealand for the entirety of shooting three films, as an actual massive team effort. And as a result, the prequel trilogies to both series do not work because the studio had it wrong – they thought that everything great about both series’ came from only the one creator behind either and not the team effort at both series’ hearts.

Harry Potter functioned in a similar vein. Over the course of a decade, four directors – Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell and David Yates – were hired in order to keep each entry fresh and unique in vision and concept. Each Harry Potter film (apart from The Order of the Phoenix) was solely written by Steve Kloves. The whole series rested on the shoulders of a cast who spent years growing together and loving each other like one giant family – quite remarkable stuff. And you know what Rowling did? She was just a creative consultant until The Deathly Hallow films where she began to also take a producing role. Whereas with the Fantastic Beasts films, it would appear David Yates signed on for all planned entries without any alternative directors in sight. Rowling has taken to writing the franchise solo without any filter or co-writers, like Kloves, to condense and structure her work. The cast appear to just be “doing their job” rather than actually living the experience of making these movies as, my biggest point of contention arises in the form of the fact The Crimes of Grindelwald just genuinely felt so passionless.

The Crimes of Grindelwald was devoid of any enjoyment or entertainment – it just felt like an arduous task to set-up the next movie. A lot of the dullness would definitely come as a result of director, David Yates, and how he essentially handled The Crimes of Grindelwald. Marking Yates’ sixth film in the Harry Potter franchise, his direction has now become almost so lifeless and cold that the series no longer even feels the least bit magical or fantastical and instead employs the emotional range of a computer. Nothing pops out and no wonder is felt. The Yates who directed the last four excellent Harry Potter films was not the same Yates who directed the Fantastic Beasts films, especially The Crimes of Grindelwald. What a director should be able to do is take a script and adapt it in film’s purest form and tell a story visually. Yates, however, seemingly did nothing but kiss Rowling’s butt, allowing her to make the movie in her rookie image. Yet, the most annoying thing about it all is the fact that Yates has shown in the past how accomplished a filmmaker he is with the Harry Potter films, especially, in my opinion, with The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows – Part 1… but in The Crimes of Grindelwald, Yates’ direction appears nothing above lifeless, arresting itself to becoming slave to the script.

The cast was fine, but nothing to rival the original Harry Potter cast. Eddie Redmayne was cute and quirky whilst Dan Fogler was charming and funny, as the two made for an interesting and partly entertaining team-up. On the other hand, everyone else either overacted or underacted; its not entirely worth me really getting into everyone who played a role in this movie, but I do want to touch on a few. For one, Claudia Kim’s Nagini was mediocre at best but her biggest flaw was the fact she was never really given anything to do in the movie to warrant her appearance. To be honest, I never hated the retconned idea that Voldemort’s malicious snake, Nagini, was in fact a cursed human woman but instead I thought of it as a quite inventive concept… it’s just that the movie never treated the retcon as something major or even worth it’s time to explore, when the idea may have quite possibly been the most fascinating idea in the entire movie. The Crimes of Grindelwald also officially introduced Nicolas Flamel to the franchise who, sadly, did absolutely nothing to service the plot and only appeared to release a dopamine rush to fans of the original series. Lastly, Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindelwald was… you know what, not the worst.

I was really worried about Depp’s portrayal of Grindelwald ever since his out of place appearance in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. Depp, in recent years, has really disappointed as an actor, recycling his Jack Sparrow routine for almost every role, making it an central fear that he would do the same with Grindelwald. In The Crimes of Grindelwald, Depp proved his ability to be reasonably subdued in performance, even showing slight potential for future installments after a rather exciting opening action sequence. However, ultimately the character still only really existed as another zany Depp role alongside Sparrow, the Mad Hatter, Tonto, Willy Wonka and others, as opposed to being one of Rowling’s Harry Potter characters. The guy never felt like a threat or at the very least daunting as, instead of the fault of the performance, the production really dropped the ball in creating a threatening atmosphere around the villain. In Harry Potter, Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort (an extremely underrated performance if you ask me) was always shot in the darkest shadows with minimal score to really capture the horror of his villainy. Not to mention Voldemort always appeared like someone from your nightmares, officially making the Dark Lord an easily horrifying and scary foe to Harry Potter. Grindelwald meanwhile was shot throughout The Crimes of Grindelwald in pure daylight with an added bland score which never game him a mystical, enchanting dark edge but instead made him feel like just another random character. Also, not mention, Grindelwald’s spikey blonde hair look was ridiculous and dumb, quite frankly.

On the other end of the spectrum though, giving The Crimes of Grindelwald some good points, I thought Jude Law’s casting as Albus Dumbledore was perfect. Law embodied the warm, comforting, understanding, powerful presence that made Dumbledore a fan favourite in the first place. Just moments of viewing Law’s Dumbledore teaching at Hogwarts School really sold me on the slightest bits of potential this series really has going for it. In fact, screw everything else, all I want is a Jude Law Dumbledore movie. If you’re going to do anything Rowling, just do that.

If you haven’t guessed now, I am immensely disappointed with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The Harry Potter series was my baby and this film tarnished so much of what made the originals special. You know what though, something that really bothered me and got so deep below my skin in general, making me really think that Rowling has somewhat lost her way, is this one point: back when The Philosopher’s Stone was being greenlit in the early 2000s, Rowling requested the series be entirely a British production. And maybe its because of Hollywood’s lack of involvement in the first eight films, that they were all successful in what they turned out to be. The Crimes of Grindelwald is betrayal of that original idea; these prequels are both British and American in their production and, oh boy, you can feel Hollywood’s touch. The Americanised dramatization of storytelling was extremely visible whilst the overabundance and complete reliance on CGI hurt the film indefinitely. The visual effects on everything, other than a few creatures, were badly visible and blatantly crappy. The magic of the original Harry Potter films came in their ability to merge practical effects with visual effects as, for the most half, the practical effects were showcased front and centre. However, all magic was removed from The Crimes of Grindelwald due to the fact none of the movie felt real – it just appeared like nothing less than a giant computer simulation. The flick could have literally been set in any city as Paris, London and New York become indistinguishable in their colour schemes and ultimate dull appearances. I mean, you can even see the damn green screen when the characters go to Hogwarts! HOGWARTS IS NOT A COMPUTER!

I amend Rowling for trying to write a film about war and politics with themes of persuasion and choice coming into play, but she explored all those concepts much better in Harry Potter and in turn Steve Kloves did a much better job adapting said concepts for the big screen. What we were instead left with in The Crimes of Grindelwald was an explosion of convoluted storylines and characters that never gelled and only worked in trying to set-up a sequel. There was no mystery or grand adventure and instead just a mismatch of ideas that didn’t work, only really disappointing. Oh and also, how bad is the title? I mean tries to be Harry Potter title but cannot completely disregard the name of Fantastic Beasts. “Fantastic Beasts and How To Catch Them” would have worked as would have “Harry Potter and the Crimes of Grindelwald”… but mashed together they do not. It really just cycles back to the series trying to be Harry Potter, only to fail and consequently tarnish its own identity as a prequel series.

Despite all that though, from the bottom of my heart, I want these movies to get better – I really really really do! And I honestly think they can – I still have hope. The Dumbledore, Grindelwald showdown is still on the horizon as we haven’t even really touched the surface of their battle yet which is, lets be honest, the only part people want to see from these prequels. My notes to the studio for the next film in the series would be to drop David Yates as director and hire someone fresh who can really revive the Wizarding World with their own vision. Also, hire another writer to work with Rowling on how to properly write a script with actual feedback on what works and what doesn’t – rehire Steve Kloves even; just someone than only Rowling please. Push all the unnecessary characters to the background and establish Dumbledore as the protagonist and his relationship with Grindelwald as the central crux of the narrative. Give space between films and do not release the sequel immediately in two years and instead work on it until it’s definitively ready. And lastly, move production back to Britain to really make the franchise feel like the magic is still there. To put it plainly, I do not want these films to feel and act exactly like Harry Potter, but they at least need the essence of the original series to work. I cannot stress this enough: I do not, whatsoever, want these films to fail. These prequels do not have to go down the same root of Star Wars or The Hobbit – there’s still time to make things right.

People seem to forget that only about seven years ago society thrived within the insane phenomena that was Harry Potter. Before the superhero craze that led to Marvel’s ascent to film franchise power along with Star Wars receiving a third big screen revival through Disney, we had Harry Potter. People from all around the world were swept up in Harry’s coming-of-age story, signing up to Pottermore, flying to central cities to see exhibitions featuring the film’s props and sets in real life and even going so far to admit at the ages of seventeen that their welcoming letter to Hogwarts School must have got lost on its way to the letterbox. Harry Potter, for a long time, was a way of life – it was a way of my life and it actually pained me to watch the series go down such familiar paths as previous franchises. We fans deserve better – we deserve the true magic of the wizarding world to flow back into our lives and not feel like we’re needlessly consuming just another movie product from Hollywood. The Harry Potter films were above all else a series about love and death and its difficult to continue watching a series that now contains no traces of love and doesn’t even no when its time to move on and satisfyingly end.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, without a doubt in my mind, belongs in the… THEATRE OF DOOM

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