This is going to be a difficult review for me to complete without slipping into spoiler territory. It’s no secret that Harry Potter and the world created by J.K. Rowling is something that I’m very passionate about, to the point of getting a tattoo of the deathly hallows on my wrist. I grew up reading about the magical adventures of Harry and his friends and I actually own the encyclopedia of magical creatures from which the Fantastic Beasts movie series gets its name. The inner Hufflepuff in me wants to dissect this movie frame by frame and tell you every twist and turn that I didn’t like. I want to get up on my soapbox and go into great detail and analyze every single screenwriting decision made by good ole J.K. and lambast this movie until I feel all warm and cozy again. But I won’t. What I will do, however, is try to remain level-headed and paint a fair and balanced picture about what I didn’t like about the movie without spoiling all of the things that you yourself might not hate as much as I did. But again, that is going to be so freaking hard.
Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first. If you happened to catch the first Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (which I presume you have since you’re reading this review of its sequel) then you’ll know that Grindelwald is played by Colin Farrell throughout the majority of the movie until the ending reveals that Johnny Depp will be our actual antagonist going forward. I really haven’t been a fan of Johnny Depp since he stopped acting and began just playing whatever colorful monstrosity that Tim Burton wanted him to, so I wasn’t at all excited for this change. I thought Colin Farrell did a pretty good job in the first film and was sad to see him replaced. But I’ll admit that I was wrong about this one. Depp actually plays Grindelwald with the subdued nuance that I haven’t seen from him in years. I was afraid I was going to get the Mad Hatter or Willy Wonka with blonde hair, but what I actually got was a charismatic and cold wizard who is shockingly persuasive. I completely see how Grindelwald was able to amass the followers that he did in the Potter lore, because Depp plays Grindelwald as a master of manipulation and sympathy. He doesn’t want to kill all muggles, he just “wants to live in a world where wizards no longer have to hide”. He’s the kind of evil who will wear the face of sincerity as he convinces you to commit atrocities in his name, and that villainous angle completely worked for me. I was glad that we had something different from Voldemort’s “evil for the sake of it” angle, and Depp definitely delivers a surprisingly competent performance.
The other performances are alright, but it’s probably only Jude Law’s Dumbledore that’s worth mentioning. It’s hard to make a character as iconic as Albus Dumbledore unlikable, just as it’s hard to make Jude Law into a character that audiences despise. They’re both just so damn lovable that it seems like a perfect fit. Law’s soft-spoken demeanor works well with early Dumbledore and in my opinion he’s more Richard Harris than Michael Gambon. True potterheads will know what I mean.
The rest of the cast just gets lost within each other. Frankly that is one of this movie’s biggest cons: there are just way too many characters. And when you have a cast of 20+ characters who all are getting regular amounts of screen-time, it’s hard to flesh any of them out in any substantial way. A lot of the favorites from the first movie seem more or less forgotten about in this one, in exchange for brand new characters who didn’t resonate at all with me as a viewer or a Harry Potter fan. Tina Goldstein was very much a co-lead in the last movie, but I honestly can’t think of a single notable line or action that she performs in this one. Her sister Queenie gets a significantly bigger chance to be a character, but even her arc feels extremely rushed and a bit nonsensical. It was hard for me to buy that her character, especially with her ability to read minds, would make a lot of the choices that she ended up making in this movie.
And that’s one of the running themes from Crimes of Grindelwald. It seems disturbingly intent on undoing the events from the last movie and that’s evident even if you’ve watched nothing but the trailers. You know that Creedence, who exploded to death in the first movie, is actually fine and dandy and on the hunt for his true parents…somehow. And you know that Jacob, who ended the last movie with having his memory wiped in one of the most powerful scenes of the entire film, has his memory back and suffers exactly 0 negative consequences as a result. It’s just a bit bizarre to me that J.K. would write in these powerful status-quo changes only to have them not really matter only one movie later.
There’s a ton of pacing issues, but again most of that just stems from having too many characters. Leta Lestrange at least was somewhat mentioned in the first movie, so I understand her being in this film. But they gave her a huge part. I would almost be curious to have the numbers on her amount of screentime and lines versus the “actual protagonist” of the movie, Newt Scamander. I feel like she had way more of a focus than he did, and it’s kind of not okay to give side-characters more to do than your main one. Within her plot thread comes another 5 or 6 characters each with their own backgrounds and motivations, all of which offer nothing substantial to the overall story except in service to that one big twist reveal that you’ve probably read exists but don’t know what it is.
And boy, that twist. I knew something was coming, but I didn’t know it would end up being as bad as it was. My heart completely sank as Harry Potter canon was seemingly thrown out the window yet again in an attempt to elicit an “Oh my god!” type of reaction from the audience. But whereas they were going for “Oh my god” as in “Oh my god, I didn’t see that coming!”, my reaction ended up being more of an “Oh my god, why did they do this horrible, terrible thing to my beloved baby?” instead. There is a way that this twist could work out and end up being pretty clever, but honestly I don’t even know if I have enough faith in J.K. anymore to believe that’s where she’s going with things. It wouldn’t surprise me at this point if the first scene of the next movie occurs immediately after the big twist, and the reveal is shown to be “just a prank, bro” and the movie franchise then carries on like it never happened. Because that’s what happened with the transition from the first movie to Crimes of Grindelwald, so it seems like a dangerous precedent has been set at the very least.
Regardless, we’re pretty much 0/2 for Fantastic Beast movies and it’s hard to see this story even being milked for another three movies. If they were smart, they’d scrap that idea for five films and just try to wrap everything up in a third and final film and move on to fleshing out some other stories in the universe. Because there are so many stories that could be told in the Wizarding World, which makes it even more baffling that they’d try to shoehorn the Dumbledore vs Grindelwald stuff into a series called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This story began as a light-hearted look into the life of an introverted Hufflepuff and his zany animal companions, and somehow he has been completely buried under the life and death stakes of another good vs evil plot involving characters and conflicts he really has no interest in. It’s just a shame that Newt isn’t even given the chance to be the hero of his own story, but that’s basically Hufflepuffs for you.
Hey there, Potterheads! If you enjoyed this content from The Bench Sports, check out our merch store here and pick yourself up a little something!