The second installment of the "Fantastic Beasts" series set in J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World featuring the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander. (from IMDB)
I posted this intro on my review for the first Fantastic Beasts film, and I feel the need to share it again. I must admit I've never seen a single Harry Potter film or read any of the books. In full disclosure, I had decided to avoid them due to feeling uncomfortable with the idea of making witchcraft appealing and normal to young children. And when I had seen a Harry Potter witchcraft kit on sale at a local Border's Bookstore during the rise of the Potter phenomenon, I decided to steer clear of it. And, honestly, to this day, I don't really care to change that. However, I realize deciding to watch the Fantastic Beasts series may seem puzzling if not entirely hypocritical. The deciding factor for me was that the story seemed less focused on witchcraft and teaching it to kids in a school, and more about the unique creatures within their world. And, upon viewing the first film, I've found that to be mostly true, with some of the history of the wand-wielders in the Wizarding World playing a big part of this story.
But Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald does change all of that. This second installment serves as more of an effort to bridge Fantastic Beasts and the Harry Potter series, almost exactly the way The Hobbit films did for Lord of the Rings (and even Star Wars has fallen prey to). It's not really the best way to chart a new course either. But what I didn't know going in to see The Crimes of Grindelwald is that, not only were more films already being planned in the Fantastic Beasts series, but a total of FIVE of them! This makes The Crimes of Grindelwald seem somewhat superfluous. It's hardly the "Empire Strikes Back" of this series. If anything, Fantastic Beasts is shaping up to have all of the same shortcomings and weaknesses that the drawn-out and over-stuffed Hobbit prequels had. And considering the fact that both franchises are from the same studio, you would think someone would have learned something somewhere about this issue.
I usually like to watch film series with a knowledgeable grasp on the franchise. It's interesting to be viewing these films having little-to-no familiarity with the Wizarding World beyond the 2016 Fantastic Beasts film. But because I'm unfamiliar with this world, I'm learning it's difficult to just dive into this new series blindly. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was a decent gateway into the Wizarding World, introducing new things to the series. But with The Crimes of Grindelwald setting out to lay the groundwork for three more movies that will assumingly connect with the Potter series, we're presented with a film whose story meanders from one thought and plot beat to another, skipping here and there. At times, I found myself wondering "Seriously, what is the significance of this completely random moment? (or flashback?)," only to find how it comes into play a little later. Granted, there's a good chance they're setting up connections for down the road in future films, but it's a little frustrating to be a moviegoer who just wants to enjoy the movie they're currently viewing. It's definitely not like a Marvel Cinematic Universe film where the movies stand pretty well on their own while pushing a greater overarching story along.
The characters are what made Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them so endearing, and, sadly, The Crimes of Grindelwald reuintes them only to ramp up the tension and smash them up, while introducing less interesting or endearing characters and giving more screen time to them. Eddie Redmayne's quirky delivery of Newt continues to be my favorite part about this series and even he takes a backseat to the events of this film. Furthermore, while Ezra Miller's Credence character was being created as a dark pawn to play a part in a bigger scenario, he seemed to be removed from the board by the end of the first film. Suddenly, as if as an afterthought, he's back and almost as boring to behold as the first time around (at least his horrible haircut is gone -- even Miller wasn't quiet about how bad that haircut was!). With such a relentless focus on his character's importance, I just wish I could care more about his character, but there's just not much there to cling to. Johnny Depp, as Grindelwald, is really the only great addition to the cast (he had a little cameo at the end of the first movie). He's delightfully sinister and menacing in this film, but his intentions and goals feel unclear, and it makes me wonder if I'm supposed to know where things go in the Potter films to full understand what Grindelwald is doing (or trying to do). And certain plot elements just don't seem to make much sense. Grindelwald is constantly trying to find and manipulate Credence, and then, at one point, he's in his presence, but does nothing more but hand him a breadcrumb to follow. Then, later in the film, some strange secret meeting is held and everyone in the movie somehow ends up in the same room (even seemingly accidentally), feeling all too convenient while also making me wonder if I'd missed something. The film's final moments leave things open-ended and unresolved, while teasing things that really only Potter-heads will know, clinching my feeling that this new franchise really is just crafted for the Potter fans. (Y'know how comic book movies often tease characters and events that only diehard readers of comic books would know? It feels like that.)
While my original reservations about the Potter films packaging witchcraft up for kids still holds true for me, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald does touch on the Hogwarts school elements some, bringing the plot to the school for a few scenes (with potential for more in the future). These stories are staying centered around the adults and in a very fantastical way, but it felt like there's a more conscious effort to work in those Potter elements this time around. It was nice to see characters like Newt, Jacob, Tina and Queenie again, but with the way things progress throughout the course of this film, it's more disappointing than making me eager for the next chapter.
The content of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is on par with the first film, albeit darker. Language is kept to only 2 uses of "h*ll" from Jacob, while the only real sexual content is the occasional low-cut top on a female character and maybe some cleavage. There does seem to be some hinting that Grindelwald and Dumbledore may have had a thing for each other when they were younger. When described as being like brothers, Dumbledore corrects them by saying "more than brothers," and some of the way we see them interact in the past--including the blood pact--teeters on romantic. (And this creates another problem for the film -- what's the big deal between these two guys? Why can't Dumbledore fight Grindelwald exactly? Why were they so close? Is this something touched on in the Potter movies? Did Rowling say at one point Dumbledore is gay? So does this mean this hero and villain had some kind of love affair?) The rest of the content is violence, with a short flashback shot of two characters cutting their palms in order to make a blood pact, and we see some scrapes and such on other characters. We also see a lot of characters get burned up or turned to dust from the impact of wands or blue flame. One scene shows a little tentacle brush along a man's eye and later we see it being yanked out (but not in full detail) and we see it's a multi-tentacled parasite that had been plaguing a man with poison. There are also two scenes that focus on the death of little children. One involves Grindelwald casting a spell that instantly kills a married couple, and when he finds a toddler sitting in a room calling for his parents, the villain smiles at the boy, orders his associate to kill the boy and leaves the room. We don't see the death, but we see a flash of light come from the room that represents the murdering of the child. Later, we hear about a child being swapped with another while infants, and then drowning in a boating accident. We see an infant wrapped in clothes (with the hand visible) as it sinks underwater out of reach of its mother. Both moments are rather disturbing. Overall, the nature of this film is much, much darker than the first one, and not necessarily in a good or exciting way, either.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was a fun and mostly enjoyable period fantasy film, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald doesn't quite live up to chapter before it. Plagued with being a bridge film instead of a natural continuation, and marred by a dark tone and meandering plot, The Crimes of Grindelwald may be a better film when considered in the context of the rest of the franchise, but by itself, it's only a decent-but-flawed fantasy film that probably only Potter purists will truly enjoy.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/28/18)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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