‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’- Whirlwind Plot With Sloppy Resolution
Originally published on Dec. 21, 2018 https://shsoracle.blogspot.com/2018/12/fantastic-beasts-crimes-of-grindelwald.html
After a brief stint in America, the Wizarding World returns to its European roots in ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald,’ J.K. Rowling’s second installment to the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Prequel to the well-renowned, groundbreaking, and immensely popular Harry Potter series, the stakes were high for returning filmmakers after the global success surrounding its predecessor. Picking up where the preceding film left off, ‘Crimes’ follows protagonist Newt Scamander as he navigates dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald’s escape from prison and his mission to ensure that pureblood wizards rule the world (Sound familiar?). The newly-discovered Obscurial, Credence Barebone, serves as a major plot device; he is sought after Grindelwald to kill his only threat, then-Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor Albus Dumbledore. Returning characters Jacob Kowalski and Queenie and Tina Goldstein join Newt in a quest to find Credence before Grindelwald does. Ultimately, Grindelwald serves as the face of fascism in the film, representing yet another overarching political message in one of Rowling’s works.
Potter stories are best known for their mystery. Rowling has a special talent in shock value and her latest film does not disappoint. Screenwriters keep the mystery alive through suspenseful plot twists and an action-packed climax- if a little sloppy this time around. While the audience longed for answers, the plot became increasingly difficult to follow. The jaw-dropping resolution, whether true or just a red herring to throw off the audience, was a lazily written end to a whirlwind of a movie.
There’s a twinge of nostalgia present throughout the film, more than the last. The moment bound to tug on any diehard HP fan’s heartstrings was when Hogwarts came into view for the first time on screen in seven years, ornamented with the all-familiar tune of “Hedwig’s Theme.” Jude Law’s portrayal of young Dumbledore was refreshing yet true to the man we met in the Harry Potter series. An appearance by Nicholas Flamel, a character only ever mentioned in the first Harry Potter book, was another link to the original series- but his appearance was pointless and obviously fanservice. Despite having a deeper connection to the original series, there were some minor yet game-changing discrepancies. The big reveal, for example: how could Credence be Dumbledore’s brother, if he was known to only have two siblings as revealed in The Deathly Hallows? How is Leta related to Bellatrix’s husband- especially since she dies at the end of the movie? How did Dumbledore become the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, when it was explicitly mentioned that he taught Transfiguration before becoming Headmaster? How was Professor McGonagall portrayed as a full-fledged adult when her birth was not recorded for another decade after the movie takes place? With such unanswered questions and continuity issues, it’s difficult to be fully pleased with what Rowling has done with the film.
An ensemble cast led the film: Eddie Redmayne, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Claudia Kim, Jude Law, and Callum Turner delivered emotional performances with excellent dialogue by Steve Kloves. Katherine Watson’s performance as Tina was still quite bland, but she shared a beautiful, romantic, and emotional moment with Newt that counts as one of the best moments in the film.
Rowling tries to incorporate many new and returning characters with developed backstories, but it isn’t seamless and got quite confusing at times. Newt’s role is much less significant than in the first film, despite his status as the protagonist. Rowling’s depiction of Queenie and Jacob’s relationship, and by extension, Queenie herself, is an utter disgrace to her powerfully feminine character — Queenie’s flaws are practically irredeemable. Memorable new characters like Theseus and Leta aid the story- Theseus brings a backstory to our seemingly obscure protagonist and Kravitz brilliantly portrayed Leta’s emotional storyline. The most controversial cast member, briefly introduced in the previous film, was Johnny Depp as Grindelwald. Although giving a chilling performance, his extreme look overshadowed the plot. Audience members could hardly focus on his overarching goal.
Along with the controversial casting of Johnny Depp (which Rowling and the team defended, despite championing themselves as progressive storytellers), came a boatload of other controversies. The human backstory surrounding Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, sparked both ethical debates and debates about racial stereotyping. Another was Dumbledore’s sexuality, although referred to in a beautiful scene (passionately performed by Jude Law), is largely glossed over throughout the film.
All in all, the ending, a win for Grindelwald but just the beginning for Dumbledore’s gang of misfits, sets the stage for the next film. ‘Crimes’ had a confusing plot, but retained some Potter that will definitely have fans flooding back to the theater for the next installment. As a dedicated Harry Potter fan, it is hard to get attached to new characters; the series itself is best seen as a standalone. Despite Rowling’s best efforts, it turns out Hogwarts just isn’t the same without Harry after all.