I never thought the day would come that I’d be unimpressed, disappointed even, with anything Harry Potter-related, but that day has finally come! The visually-stunning second film of the Fantastic Beasts series, The Crimes of Grindelwald, hit U.S. theaters last month and after sitting through 2+ hours of Eddie Redmayne’s perfectly coiffed hair, I cannot say I was happy with… well, any of it.
I should preface this post by saying that I didn’t hate or even dislike The Crimes of Grindelwald. As far as my love (read: obsession) with Harry Potter goes, it’s impossible for me to dislike anything Harry Potter, including this spin-off/prequel. I’m not telling anyone to not go see it, I’m not calling for a boycott, I’m just venting my frustrations because ultimately my only reaction to the film is that I’m very disappointed.
The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up not too long after where the first film ends. Grindelwald, played by a particularly pale and problematic Johnny Depp, is imprisoned by the American Ministry of Magic. He escapes and wreaks havoc on the wizarding world as he tries to reunite with our favorite Obscurial, Credence Barebone! Credence, portrayed by Ezra Miller and Ezra Miller’s jawline, survived the Ministry’s attack and is now working at a circus with a woman named… NAGINI??????????????????? Yes, Nagini, presumably the same Nagini we meet in the original Harry Potter universe as the one and only Lord Voldemort’s soul snake (Get it? “Soul snake”? Like “soul mate” but it’s a snake? *rimshot*). Anyway, Dumbledore tasks Newt Scamander, of all people, with finding Grindelwald for some god-forsaken reason and, well, that’s pretty much the gist. In between are flashbacks to Newt’s days at Hogwarts and his relationship with Slytherin student, Leta Lestrange, whose backstory is incredibly troubling, relationship drama between Queenie and Jacob, Tina is mad at Newt because she thinks he’s marrying Leta, and Newt’s older brother is kind of a jerk? I really couldn’t tell. But, as you can see, lots of things going on in only two hours.
Which brings me to my biggest grievance (and the only one I’ll really talk about in this post) with The Crimes of Grindelwald: lack of organization! This movie was all over the place! One second we’re dealing with Grindelwald and his merry band of baby murderers (???), the next we’re trying to find out who the hell Credence actually is (apparently, Dumbledore’s… BROTHER??????? I’m not buying that for a second.), the next we’re back at Hogwarts getting a lot more backstory than is probably needed for a character who dies (???) at the end of the movie. And don’t forget all the mess between the Fantastic Four (Newt, Tina, Queenie, and Jacob) with their respective relationship drama. It just didn’t feel well planned out. The title of the movie makes you think the film is going to focus on Grindelwald, but Grindelwald and his crimes seemed like the secondary plot and that this movie was really about… literally everything else.
The thing about the original Harry Potter series is that we only ever got the story through Harry’s eyes. Occasionally, we would get a scene from Snape or Voldemort’s point of view, but that wasn’t until we were towards the end of the series (please correct me if I’m wrong). By that point, it had been established that the bulk of the series would only be told from Harry’s point of view. With Fantastic Beasts, though, we’re getting the story through everyone’s eyes. We’re follwing Newt, then Credence, then Grindelwald, then Leta, then Queenie, then Tina, and it just keeps going around like that until it seems each character has gotten their moment in the spotlight. Maybe that’s what J.K. was going for, but it’s not working out so well. What we’re getting is a lot of subplots within this story from different characters and none of them are meshing well to create a cohesive film. And it doesn’t help that all those subplots are so different from each other because now there are like five subplots going on and I can’t tell which is supposed to be the main one. Obviously since the movie’s title allures to Grindelwald’s crimes, that’s what should have been the main plot, but again, we hardly got any emphasis on those crimes at all.
As I’m typing this I’m realizing that I could be criticizing Fantastic Beasts so harshly because I’m comparing it to the original Harry Potter series, and perhaps that isn’t the way I should be looking at it. Yes, Fantastic Beasts is a “prequel” of sorts for the original Harry Potter series, but it’s obviously following a much different format than the original series. The Harry Potter series isn’t continuous in the same way Fantastic Beasts is. It’s a different kind of continuous. Each book/film of the original series focuses on very different events. Book 1 is about the Sorcerer’s Stone, book 6 is about the Half-Blood Prince, Book 7 primarily focuses on the Deathly Hallows. They almost function as standalones. They focus on whatever event/person/object/place is in the title, and it’s only details that carry on to other books and films, not those overarching plots. We’re not still talking about the Triwizard Tournament in Dealthy Hallows.
Fantastic Beasts, however, seems to be the kind of series that’s continuous in that each movie is going to be a small piece of the whole story that’s going to be told with this spin-off. Rowling isn’t chunking up Newt’s shenanigans the way she did Harry’s. Perhaps that means that The Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t suppsed to act as a quasi-standalone the way previous movies did. The first Fantastic Beasts movie acted incredibly as a standalone (I had not a single complaint about that one), but now that Warner Bros. has decided to make a full series out of it, I guess they’ve decided to have the movies act less as standalones and more as transition pieces to the following films until we’ve gotten the entire story. I could be totally wrong, but for the sake of trying to find reason behind such a sloppy film, I’ll keep convincing myself that’s exactly what’s going on. I’d rather think that than think J.K. is releasing half-assed ideas into the world because she’s desperate to keep Harry Potter relevant, which is what I originally thought walking out of the theater.
It does not please me to be disappointed in the work of J.K. Rowling when I attribute so much of the dork I am today to her work. I really wish she would’ve written a book series for the spin-off (books, NOT screenplays). I can’t help but feel this movie would have been much more neat and focused had the director had some kind of source material to follow, but the damage is done. The good thing, though, is that even though this wasn’t a great movie, it’s still early enough to regroup and improve.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was disappointing, but I’m not counting the series out just yet. We’re supposed to be getting more films in the coming years, and perhaps in that time J.K. and the rest of the crew behind the films will figure out how to hone in on the main story and all these subplots efficiently and effectively. How they’ll do it, I don’t know, but for the sake of the spin-off’s reputation, I really hope they do.
Have you seen The Crimes of Grindelwald? What was your reaction to it? Comment below and tell me all your thoughts!