The newest installment of J.K. Rowling’s and Warner Bros.’ Wizarding World franchise sees David Yates returning to the director’s chair for the sixth consecutive time, as well as J.K. Rowling herself writing the screenplay.  Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is an exceptionally charismatic, fun and enjoyable movie. We get to see the return of familiar faces, new faces with familiar names, and even some fantastic beasts!

A cast comprising of  A-Listers, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald stars Johnny Depp as the movie’s big bad title character, Gellert Grindelwald. Reprising their roles from the first movie are Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, Katherine Waterston  as Tina Goldstein, Dan Folger as Jacob Kowalski, Alison Soul as Queenie Goldstein, Ezra Miller as Credence Barebone/Aurelius Dumbledore, and Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange. We also get to see Calum Turner as Newt’s brother Theseus Scamander, Claudia Kim as Nagini, and Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore.

Set 6 months after the events of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we get to see the escape of Gellert Grindelwald, and just how powerful and  dangerously skilled with magic he really is. A majority of the film (everything after the first 25 minutes) sets place in Paris, where everybody (except for Dumbledore) is on the hunt for Credence . Grindelwald want Credence because he is the only wizard powerful enough to move against Dumbledore. Everybody else is looking for Credence to get to him before Grindelwald does. The reason Credence is in Paris is to find out his heritage, and where he comes from… and that is just one of many plots.

That should be on of the films biggest problems: too much story and subplots! But it’s not a problem at all. Here is a list of all of the story lines:

  • Newt’s travel ban because of New York, and whether he will join to Aurors as a price to lift the ban
  • Leta Lestrange’s conflicted love interest between her fiancé Theseus, and her past fling Newt (Theseus’ brother btw)
  • Newt in a love triangle between Tina and… his assistant?
  • Jacob and Queenie’s forbidden magic/muggle relationship
  • Why Dumbledore can’t fight Grindelwald?
  • Is Credence Barebone the long lost Lestrange brother?

But the main theme, the bottom of the line of the story that was clearly addressed in the beginning of the film by Theseus to Newt, “When the time comes, everyone will have to pick a side.” This is not just a “lazy” attempt to solve the problems the film sets forth by itself, rather than a rational for choosing sides. It’s not always just about the main cause, in which this case is ‘the muggle world should be rules by wizards’, but about what each side has to promise each individual, and meet their personal needs. And through this, each subplot and story was solved and culminated in the final act, which is not a norm for most franchises as they prefer to stretch the story. Respectively, the solutions are :

  • Newt’s ban gets lifted because he does choose  to join the Aurors after hearing Grindelwald’s speech and the evil he is
  • Leta sacrifices herself and “dies” (not really because the Lestranges live throughout the Potter films)
  • Newt loves Tina and only Tina (both are in team Dumbledore)
  • Jacob and Queenie both split. Queenie joins Grindelwald’s army as he promises her she can marry whoever she pleases, muggle or not. Jacob is disgusted by her choice and leaves to join Team Dumbledore
  • Dumbledore can’t fight Grindelwald because of a blood pact they have, in which one can’t harm the other. Thanks to Niffler (the platypus that steals shiny things), he gets his hands on the blood pact and can now find a way to destroy it
  • Credence finds out he is not a real Lestrange, because Leta did a baby swap on a boat to New York when he was a newborn because the real Lestrange baby  was crying too much. He drowned. He decides to join Grindelwald’s Army as he is promised that his true origins will be revealed to him (which is is, and it fuels him to fight with Grindelwald as he is told Albus tried to kill him)

The purpose of all of these stories is not to set-up anything in the future, or to fill in a 2 hour movie. It is for the sole purpose of driving these characters into choosing a side. A choice that reflects their current situation and how they feel is the best way to deal with it, as opposed to “dark side because I’m bad, sad, and unhopeful” and “good side because the dark side has bad, sad and unhopeful people.”

However, that lead to weak/rushed character development and things happening out of convenience. For instance, Jacob’s memory wasn’t wiped because, “he had no bad memories,” doesn’t quite make sense or fall within the magic of the Obliviate charm, as it is just supposed to wipe out memories, period. In regards to Credence and Nagini, nothing was established in the first film, or even towards the end of the first film that Credence wants to know his heritage and his real family. He had no motivation for that topic in Fantastic Beasts, however Crimes of Grindelwald started with him brooding and stressing over it as if it was his life’s goal to date, when really it should’ve been about 5.5 months of work and progress.

One thing I am really disappointed in was the use, or lack thereof, of Nagini. This is Voldemort’s pet snake before she is permanently turned into a snake for life, and before she met Voldemort and became vicious and blood thirsty. How does she end up that way? All we know is that she is bound to remain a snake forever, and she will do so sometime within the next 3 movies. Thinking back on it she doesn’t even join Grindelwald’s army with Credence, she steps away. Considering she is Voldemort’s sidekick in the future, this is really out of character for her to not join the “bad guys.”

On the topic of marketing scams as well, the Deathly Hallows plays a minimum role in the movie. Throughout the trailers, posters and the name The Crimes of Grindelwald, the sign of the Deathly Hallows is heavily marketed, but plays and absolute minimum role, if any role at all, in the movie. The only one of the Deathly Hallows that is seen/featured is the Elder Wand possessed by Grindelwald.

Other than that, the movie was really well done. Johnny Depp does an AMAZING job at portraying Gellert Grindelwald. After Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort from the Harry Potter series, being a big bad dark lord in the wizarding world is some pretty big shoes to fill. Depp absolutely kills it, and gives a career defining performance as the title’s big bad. Grindelwald is very well written, and although the movie isn’t too focused on him (or his crimes, as he only killed like 2 people offscreen and escaped prison), he is a well written character, that audiences can (sort of) sympathize with. He is very persuasive and attracts to a great audience in the wizarding community. For instance, he wants to rule muggles and stop WWII ( he shows the crowd visions of tanks and concentration camps), but he promises Queenie that she can love a muggle. He is also really creepy, as his stare is cold and mechanical in way, which is a far stretch from the dreamy-eyed Depp, but well perceived.

Another thing the movie does well is the fan service. We got to see a pre-Potter Hogwarts, that includes a ‘Defence Against the Dark Arts’ class lead by Dumbledore, a Bogart, the Mirror of Erised, and a young Professor McGonagall. We also got the best and most memorable creature from the first Fantastic Beasts outing; Pickett and Niffler. And my all time favourite… NICOLAS FLAMEL aka the Sorcerer/Philosopher that created the stone. We even get to see a glimpse of the glowing red stone in his closet when we are first introduced to him. If that didn’t excite you, you are not a Harry Potter fan, sorry not sorry.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a welcome and treasured addition to the Wizarding World film series, and the Potter franchise.

All of the Fantastic Beasts movies are leading up to the first Wizarding War: Dumbledore vs Grindelwald. The movie does a great job escalating into that final battle by having each character choose a side, and eventually, dropping the plot-twists of all plot-twists that no theorist could have possibly predicted. The story and overall message/tactics used to convey that message is really complicated, and it needs to be though of deeply to truly appreciate and get the point. This makes it less of a “cash grab” that is it accused of being, and more of a film for the Potterheads. With that said, it fails to attract new comers to the franchise (which is ok, the lines at Universal are too long anyway).

GRADE: A-

Vishal Lilman
vmlilman@yahoo.ca

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