Sunday, November 18, 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald - Movie Review

Written by Shiggins

Messy but fun magic.

The first Fantastic Beasts movie from 2016 was an unexpected enjoyment, escaping the drama of Harry Potter's life and embracing brand new characters with different locations, spells and great creatures, to create the beginning of a film series that I never knew I wanted. So that does place some amount of pressure on the sequel and the franchise as a whole. Does it show?

Note: Spoilers for the previous movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, will be in this article, as well as some minor spoilers for the Crimes of Grindelwald.

Oh no! Is he going to hurt the Eiffel Tower?!
Just over a year after the arrest of Grindelwald in New York, Newt Scamander is being asked to help the Ministry of Magic as it turns out Grindelwald has escaped from prison during a pretty badass opening scene and is assembling more minions to his side in Paris. Newt is hesitant at first, but the encouragement from his old teacher Albus Dumbledore and the discovery that his love interest Tina is also in Paris at the time convinces him. So its up to Newt, his best friend Jacob and a whole cast of other characters to stop Grindelwald from capturing his target, a resurrected Credence, and subjugating all Muggles.

If it sounds like there's a lot going on in this plot, that's because there bloody is! On top of needing to stop Grindelwal, the film has to deal with Newt's awkward relationship with his brother Theseus, his childhood friend Leta Lestrange, the drama Jacob is going through, what Credence's goal is, and even more. It's chaotic! It's crazy! It's too much! It's obvious that a lot of these plots are to impact future instalments in the franchise, but you could have cut out a few and not missed a thing. Remember that ridiculous "brother running for mayor" subplot in the last movie that was unnecessary and hasn't returned? I have a feeling that at least three of the subplots in this film will suffer the same fate.

Well.... Dumbledore certainly had some unique tastes.
Thankfully, the characters are strong enough to prevent this film breaking apart as easily as it should have. Personally, I see Newt Scamander, played effortlessly by Eddie Redmayne, as a much better protagonist than Harry Potter. He's funny, odd, caring, has his own motivations, and isn't a whiner. Dan Fogler also returns as Jacob, and he's still my favourite character, even if he does get obscured by the massive amount of other characters that don't get as much screentime as you'd like.

And oh boy, there are a lot of characters! Newt, Jacob, Tina Goldstein (we'll talk about her soon), Queenie, Credence, Leta Lestrange, Theseus, Nagini, Dumbledore, Grindelwald, Grimmson, Abernathy, Yusuf... All of whom are important in their own way and demanding as much development as they can get. Poor Nicholas Flamel, who was built up quite a bit, only gets two scenes. Everyone plays their roles well, especially the actor Joshua Shea as a young Newt, but not everyone is as welcome.

This looks like a screencap of the craziest gangster movie ever!
I didn't dislike Tina in the last movie, again played by Katherine Waterston, but I absolutely hated her in this movie. For some reason, director David Yates felt that this movie needed even more conflict and so there is a stupid misunderstanding between her and Newt, causing her to be a scowling bitch the entire film. I felt like screaming at the screen whenever she showed up, because she sucks the fun out of every scene she's in and keeps interrupting Newt whenever he tries to explain what happened, so their unnecessary drama lasts quite a while.

"Tina, I need to..."

"Mr Scamander!"

Shut up Tina, you miserable cow.

The stuff with Nagini is... interesting, but I need to see how the sequels go before I properly decide on her. The actress was really good though.
Anyway, let's stop talking about the worst character and instead focus on the best; Grindelwald! The title character and easily the thief of the film, stealing every scene he's in. In one film, Grindelwald is already at the level of Voldemort when it comes to villainy. While we saw Voldemort already at power and an army under his control, here we see an antagonist spending his time building up that army for sinister purposes. A few choice words, the right information about a target, and pretending to be the victim for the masses despite clearly being a bastard who works for his own nefarious ends, which is some great social commentary, and Grindelwald establishes himself as a threat that I'm thinking is one of the main reasons we even got this prequel series at all. And between his performance here and in Murder on the Orient Express, I'm starting to think Johnny Depp is finally leaving his "Every role is Jack Sparrow" phase, and returning to the acting glory he used to have.

The other stars of this film are the locations. One of the best features of this franchise is it's decision to leave the country and explore the world. Paris is our main focus here, but we see places in America, Germany and more across this wide film. Whenever you see a place of magic, the film takes advantage of it in unique and beautiful ways that I don't want to spoil. Sometimes a bit too childish, but always charming.

Around the halfway point, I began to worry about what this film was doing as it started to slow down from the stories it had created, but the third act brilliantly brings it all together and is a suitable finale. After an awkward exposition dump where reveal after reveal is given to us, the film absolutely shines for the third act and the audience is blasted by emotions, performances and effects that director David Yates should absolutely be proud of. And surprisingly, it gets quite dark! There might be less jokes in this film than the first one, but that's been replaced by some heavy heart and shocking moments of humanity, manipulation, anger, trickery and pain. This film took risks, and I personally felt they paid off spectacularly in the end.

Grindelwald is the best character, but Jacob is the most underappreciated.
Before we end the review, I should probably talk about Credence Barebone, played again by Ezra Miller. If you're like me and appreciate endings, you're probably annoyed that he's even in this film at all. His death in the last film was fitting, tragic and cruel. It was a goodbye that got to me. Seeing him come back here, with no explanation, got on my nerves. And the rest of his plot is... fine. At least, for the majority of it. There's a spectacular ending to Credence's storyline that has me really excited and eager to see the next entry, but it took a long time to get to that point.

Fantastic Beasts; The Crimes of Grindelwald is not a flawless movie. It's bloated to the point of nearly breaking, and some of the creative decisions made are questionable at best. However, some great performances, a truly engaging villain that manages to avoid being Voldemort 2.0, and a finale that neatly ties everything together while building up for the future manages to keep it from destruction. A lovely movie that I'm sure I'll enjoy even more once this series is finished.

Movie Rating: 8/10

Best Part: The third act of Grindelwald.

Worst Part: Tina's drama.

Best Performance: Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald.

This guy's performance as a young Newt was so accurate I had to check they didn't just "de-age" Eddie Redmayne. That's how impressive it is.
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  1. Watched the movie this Sunday and enjoyed it a lot!! Definetly better than the 1st movie in my opinion. What I slightly disliked about the 1st movie is how disconnected it was from the Harry Potter lore, sometimes making it seem like a normal standalone movie(Which was still quite good).

    And god, Johnny Depp is a great choice for Grindewald. I have to agree with you that he is definetly the best of this movie.

    Personally, I am neutral on Tina, but am slightly annoyed at Credence returning out of nowhere. I enjoy him in the story, but they shouldn't have "killed him off" in the 1st movie.
    The biggest complaint however has to be Leta making a useless sacrifice. It just felt... way too forced. She didn't save anyone by sacrificing herself, and she could've just stayed with the group and survive. Not to mention that I feel that there could be more done with this character, which makes her death feel... bland.

    1. Sorry about the late reply!

      I personally didn't think it was better than the first one movie, ironically because it was its own thing that didn't need to depend on Harry Potter. And after watching the Hobbit's forced links to the LOTR trilogy, I was welcome to it.

      They should have at least showed how Credence survived last time. That's too important to glance over. I know the answer is probably just "magic!" but even that would have been good.

      I recently came back from watching the movie again, and I did notice a few things. For starters, she did stop Grindelwald from killing the Scamander brothers. (They got away thanks to her sacrifice). She also destroyed Grindelwald's skull-smoke thing that, I hope at least, seems like an important development. And she did attempt to take on Grindelwald, even if she failed. I was sad to see her go, but it did feel like a tragic ending to a woman that didn't deserve it and I'd say that fits what the villain would do pretty well.

  2. Hmm, I actually enjoy some links to the original movies(as long as it's not as forced as in the Hobbit. Maybe that's why I prefer the 2nd movie, and you the 1st.

    Yeah, I agree about Credence. They didn't give any information about that, which is quite annoying.

    Well, I watched the movie only once in the theater, so maybe I forgot some bits. Still, her taking on Grindewald felt.. off. I think it could've been handled much better.