Review: Fantastic Beasts 2 Makes a Strong Case for Leaving the Wizarding World Behind
One out of five Nifflers.
It’s truly remarkable when the things I was angriest about going into Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Dumbledore’s vague sexuality, the Nagini reveal, Johnny Depp’s casting) wound up not being the things I was angriest about after seeing it.
That’s not to say that I’m not still furious about those things; the film either proved my fears were correct or managed fall below my already grim expectations, but it went even further down from there, functioning as a reverse Mirror of Erised, showing me only things I desperately did not want, including some things I didn’t even know to dread.
The film is less of a romp than the first one, instead starting off grim and remaining dark for the entire film. Grindelwald is gathering supporters for his Voldemort Lite cause, and Dumbledore sends Newt on a mission to Paris to stop him. We run into familiar faces: sisters Tina and Queenie, muggle Jacob, and the mysterious Credence. A few relatively new faces join the fray, including Newt’s brother, Theseus, and his fiancée, Leta Lestrange. I’ll keep the spoilers vague so that you can #ProtectTheSecrets.
There are plenty of new creatures to tie vaguely into the title, though the Niffler is literally the only character who meaningfully impacts the plot in any way, and I count the human characters in this too. Other than that, having Newt Scamander in the lead makes no sense. It’s not a Fantastic Beasts movie; it’s a “Wizarding World” movie. Seeing the title card informing audiences that this film is part of Warner Bros.’ new Wizarding World franchise gives me existential dread.
A Potter Cinematic Universe in Rowling’s hands will be an absolute disaster.
The script, thankfully, does not feel too overly long, a minor miracle for such an overstuffed film, but what is included in a downright mess. Rowling was praised for her character work in the Harry Potter books. Here, I struggled to grasp at any thread that would imply any character had an arc that made sense.
Newt sort of has some vague story as he’s faced with the realities of Grindelwald, but Redmayne overplays Newt’s Hufflepuff nature to the point where he seems like he was made out of “uwu smol bean” Tumblr posts. At one point, Dumbledore praises his dedication to doing what is right, which must be a plot point later on in the franchise, because it doesn’t seem to come into play much in the film.
Katherine Waterston sleepwalks her way through her role; did no one think to do a chemistry read with her and Redmayne? Alison Sudol is given perhaps the worst role of all with Queenie this go ’round, where the less said truly is the better. Dan Folger has a bit of fun as Jacob, and probably has the most enjoyable time of them all. Even Ezra Miller, who should be stealing the show, just looks vaguely frustrated and lost the entire time.
Everyone else is distinctly unmemorable. Harry Potter has had some pretty decent performances in the first eight films, but here no one stands out particularly here.
Jude Law especially falls flat. There’s no Dumbledore there, only Jude Law playing Jude Law. Following Richard Harris and Michael Gambon in the role is a struggle, but couldn’t we have at least seen a familiar spark?
And even if we are to ignore the allegations against Depp, his performance here is beyond the pale in terms of going through the motions. It’s better than his later turns as Jack Sparrow or the Mad Hatter, but he’s flat and charisma-free. There was literally no reason to cast him. Also, Grindelwald is suddenly American now, I guess, because we couldn’t demand Depp do an accent?
And of course, we were right to fear the way the movie would tackle Dumbledore’s sexuality. The Mirror of Erised sequence definitely would read as queer to me as both a queer woman and someone who loves that good subtext, but there is still no moment in which the subtext becomes clear text.
There’s part of me that even doesn’t want them to make it overt; I don’t want the only notable representation in the franchise to be two terrible men who like to manipulate and send people to die for them. Don’t worry, the heterosexual romances are somehow even worse, with a scene between Tina and Newt being so painfully awkward and bizarre that I mentally replaced them both with Tina Belcher in my head.
(Warning: Mild plot spoilers will follow in the next few paragraphs.)
The plot, and Rowling’s attempts at weaving references into this series that tie into Harry Potter, is just a disaster. There are cameos and Easter eggs, many of which fly in the face of established canon to an absurd degree. It’s telling that when the biggest surprise of the film happened, my screening audience—full of Potter fans—barely reacted. By the end of the film, it’s hard to care about the retcons at all.
But Rowling trying to make everything into fanservice is not my biggest issue. The thing that sent me into a full-blown rage was the dreadful political implications.
In an earlier featurette, Rowling said that Dumbledore is trying to warn people not to be violent towards Grindelwald’s supporters lest they turn more to his cause. The cause in question is the eradication and enslavement of Muggles, but respectability politics must reign, and the good guys look pretty terrible in the script because of Rowling’s attempt at political grandstanding. Grindelwald is given a noble goal, and the implications of what it means to stand against this goal are too terrible to unpack in a vague review; expect full thoughts on them next week.
Harry Potter has long been touted as a way to teach kids to fight for what’s right and stand up against oppressors. I failed to see that message here. Not to bring up the present reality in every article I write, but sending a message that fighting fascists who want to commit genocide will only turn more people to their cause seems downright faulty, considering Rowling likes to correct the sitting American president’s typos and tweet Orwell quotes.
It’s impossible to read Grindelwald as anything but a fascist monster. Rowling didn’t need to give him a purpose he divined from vaping out of a skull (which is also something that happens).
As I exited the theater, I listened to the conversations of those around me. Many expressed confusion or frustration with the film. These were die-hard fans who should have been excitedly talking about the latest entry to the franchise. If this fails to land with them, then who is this really being made for?
I’m sure this film, much like the previous installment, will have staunch defenders, and just because you don’t like that a story is continuing, or how it’s continuing, doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to agree with you. But this is just a bad movie, plain and simple. As someone who went to midnight book releases, who taught a class on Harry Potter, and who grew up with the books, I’m tired.
There comes a time when an ending is a good thing. For Fantastic Beasts, that was probably before it even began.
(image: Warner Bros)
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