In The Crimes of Grindelwald’s third scene, a character who we never learn anything about despite her constant presence throughout the entire movie murders a toddler, for no reason, just off screen. Even Michael Myers, famed slasher movie villain of the Halloween series, didn’t sink that low, although you could tell in the most recent one that he considered it for a moment.
This moment perfectly sets the tone for the rest of this movie: a grim, overly dramatic, mean-spirited entry into the Harry Potter universe. Fantastic Beasts 2 can accurately be described as a loosely connected series of mostly sequential events, though it’s often unclear how it gets from one scene to the next or why the characters do any of the things they do. Often, the next plot point just happens to appear wherever the characters already are, seemingly to save the filmmakers the trouble of establishing a sense of time or space. The movie also abandons almost every rule we know about magical spells, places, and people, trading the series’ long-established internal logic and consistency for large, ugly, confusing CG set pieces, like magical blue fire that inexplicably burns some people and not others, and eventually turns into several large dragons that attempt to destroy Paris.
Maybe worst of all, The Crimes of Grindelwald has no sense of wonder at its own magical world. Millions fell in love with Harry Potter because the wizarding world felt like a place you’d want to live, despite its bad elements. Inhabiting this movie’s magical alternate history for a couple of hours will just make you want to get obliviated so you can forget the whole thing.
Like the original, Fantastic Beasts 2 follows Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander, a protagonist who you may eventually convince yourself to like, although it’s totally unclear why the movie’s young Dumbledore (Jude Law) puts any faith in him when he sends him on a mission to stop Grindelwald.
These movies can’t decide whether Newt is a bumbling nincompoop who constantly loses track of the magical platypuses and other creatures that are his charge, or a powerful warrior-mage who can go toe-to-toe with the most dangerous magical fascists of his day. It tries to have it both ways, which just makes him baffling as a character, made worse by the fact that he mumbles most of his lines and is often difficult to understand. Even the movie’s titular fantastic beasts–the myriad magical creatures Newt cares for–are totally lacking in charm, just as they were in the first movie. These CG monstrosities can’t compare to the largely practical creatures seen in the main Harry Potter movies, and many, from a deer-like monster with a gaping mouth to a large sea beast made from kelp, are simply thrown in for no reason and with little or no explanation.
Many other characters from the first movie return, although author-turned-screenwriter J.K. Rowling fails to give most of them anything to do or any purpose in the plot. For example, Katherine Waterston’s Tina Goldstein is chasing bad guys around the world and is mad at Newt over a misprint in a newspaper that led her to believe he was engaged to someone else. It’s one of those iconic movie moments where if one person could just get out the correct words–“I’m not engaged, it was a copy error”–they could avoid a ton of frustrating drama and miscommunication. You know, everyone’s favorite trope.
Ezra Miller returns as Credence, who is once again almost completely wasted as nothing more than a lame MacGuffin, and only exists so the movie can orchestrate a last-second twist that is too unearned and poorly explained for the filmmakers to have possibly had it in mind while establishing his character in the first movie.
Magical villain Grindelwald is unfortunately still played by Johnny Depp (recall that Depp needlessly replaced the infinitely more interesting Colin Farrell at the end of the first movie in what, after this film’s ending, is only the second worst twist in Harry Potter history). Depp seems to have no idea what to do with the weird magi-fascist dogma his character needs to constantly recite, and so just plays it as seriously as possible, which winds up being boring to the point that his monologues eventually become monotonous.
Meanwhile, the ditzy but lovable Queenie (Alison Sudol), who in the first one at least had a narrative reason to exist, suffers through an unbelievably lazy and nonsensical arc that I can’t believe actually made it into the movie. And Dan Fogler’s muggle character Jacob is there too, once again mostly just following the other characters around and occasionally saying something funny.
There are a ton of new characters. Callum Turner plays Newt’s brother Theseus, a more handsome version of Newt who has even less personality. Seriously, I could not tell you one other trait about Newt’s brother besides his occupation (auror, the in-universe term for wizard cop) and that he’s Newt’s brother. Grindelwald is surrounded by sidekicks and henchmen who one and all literally don’t matter. Zoe Kravitz plays Leta Lestrange (somehow related to the main series villain Bellatrix Lestrange), who does nothing the entire movie and exists only to deliver a long exposition dump in the final act, while Brontis Jodorowsky’s Nicolas Flamel, an important figure in Harry Potter lore, is in the movie but does nothing.
None of these new faces are properly introduced, characterized, or developed, including one character whose name I can’t remember (if it’s ever established in the first place), who we follow through much of the movie before learning even the basic facts of who he is and why he matters at all. At one point he inexplicably keels over, and he might be dead–it’s actually pretty confusing–and you’re honestly unsure whether you’re supposed to be relieved or sad, or feel anything at all, because you have no idea who he is despite that being his second or third scene.
Maybe the worst addition of all is Claudia Kim, who plays Nagini, the personified version of Voldemort’s CG snake from the main Harry Potter series. Nagini’s only purposes in the movie are occasionally looking sad when the camera cuts to her (she has maybe two lines of dialogue), and generating press coverage about how Rowling is retconning Voldemort’s snake to actually be a person named Nagini who will eventually transform permanently. Years after these events, you may recall, Voldemort will put part of his soul in the snake, and Neville Longbottom will have to murder her. Why it was important to establish this major change now–or at all–is honestly a mystery.
That’s just one of the ways The Crimes of Grindelwald retcons the larger Harry Potter story into continuity oblivion. The worst example of this is a massive spoiler, so I won’t write it here, but you’ll know it when you see it and the theater around you lets out a collective resigned sigh: So this is what it’s come to. This is the wizarding world without Harry Potter.
Where Crimes doesn’t retcon existing plot, it shamelessly rehashes twists, ideas, and entire characters from the main series. Grindelwald was obviously always Voldemort’s predecessor, but that’s also probably a pretty good reason why these movies were a bad idea in the first place. The two villains have the exact same ideology, methods, and personality. The only difference is we already know exactly how this version ends, this being a prequel and all. Oh, and I’d take Ralph Fiennes (or Colin Farrell for that matter) over Johnny Depp any magical day of the week.
To my opening point, yes, I’m aware that the entire Harry Potter series, from literally the first chapter, hangs on the story of a bad guy attempting to murder a child. The difference is Voldemort tries to kill Harry for a reason. The horrific act is done in service of the plot, it’s regarded as the horrific act that it is, and in fact, it sets the whole series in motion. The murder of a child–or any of the horrific things Voldemort does or tries to do–is treated with the gravity it deserves. When Grindelwald’s nameless but prominently featured underling Avada Kedavras a toddler in the third scene of this movie, it’s simply because the toddler happened to be in a random house that Grindelwald chose as his new headquarters. The act serves no purpose, and it’s never brought up again.
That’s a wizarding world in which I don’t want to live, and dragging out that scale model of Hogwarts and the series’ iconic theme music for a fly-over shot two thirds of the way in, when the movie is really starting to drag, doesn’t change that in the slightest.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Dan Fogler occasionally says something funny||Decimates Harry Potter continuity, structure, and existing lore|
|New characters are pointless while old ones have nothing to do|
|Johnny Depp has no idea what to do with the character Grindelwald|
|Ignores every rule of the magical world we’ve come to know|
|Ugly CG creatures are thrown in for no reason|
|Plot makes little sense and events happen mostly at random|