Warning: This post contains some minor spoilers for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Yesterday, I went to see the latest installment in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
I was a big fan of the first Fantastic Beasts film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I know the film had its flaws, and they were plenty – and I know that the film passed up on a lot of excellent opportunities to make the Harry Potter universe more diverse and inclusive. (For more detail on this and a better perspective than I could provide, I recommend checking out the extremely on-point meta essay by Stitch, Fantastic Beasts & Invisible Diversity in the Harry Potter Series).
But in spite of this (well, a lot of these were issues that I read about in depth after I’d seen the film, so I wasn’t as attuned to them on the first watch) I really enjoyed watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. On the whole, I found it really fun, endearing, enjoyable and a lovely addition to the wider Harry Potter universe. I loved Newt’s character and adored seeing a Hufflepuff in the starring role (I can’t remember whether I’ve said it on this blog before, but I’m a proud Puff). I shipped the heck out of Queenie and Jacob. I really enjoyed their characters and the various magical beasts that we see introduced over the course of the film.
The ending was a huge disappointment to me: not just because of the apparent cold-blooded murder of a young Obscurial, not just because of Thunderbird Ex Machina, but because of its introduction of Grindelwald as the series’ main villain – honestly, I’d thought Percival Graves was one of Grindelwald’s followers, and so to me the revelation that he was really Grindewald in disguise felt like a huge let-down. Can’t we have more than just one compelling, powerful villain in this universe at a time?
But all in all, I still liked the film, and dove eagerly into the rich and varied world of Fantastic Beasts fanfic, where many of the issues that I’d had with the film were either fixed or given a much better resolution. I dove into making Fanlore pages for the film and for my favourite ship, Percival/Newt.
I didn’t exactly avidly follow information about the upcoming second installment to the franchise, but I was looking forward to it. I was excited to see the introduction of Jude Law as young Dumbledore, and for more antics from Newt and his beasts. My expectations weren’t high for the plot or for things like the introduction of Nagini, a character whose existence completely contradicts a significant part of the canon from the later Harry Potter books and suddenly makes it a whole new level of horrible and wrong. But I still expected to enjoy the film.
In hindsight, I should have known better.
The trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald makes the film look like a thrilling, high-stakes magical adventure. It isn’t.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald frustrated and confused me from start to finish. Despite the fact that this is only the second of five films – meaning we’ve got three more of these to come – the pacing felt horribly rushed. The plot was convoluted and the stakes were as low as they could possibly have been. None of the action felt urgent or at all tense. I didn’t feel at any point as if there was a real threat from Grindelwald, or a threat to any of the characters I cared about. Characters died whom we’d had no real chance to form an emotional connection with, making their deaths seem empty and impactless, almost insulting. I’m going to avoid directly spoiling their identities, but I will say that two of the deaths were characters of colour, which was rage-inducing but also sadly in keeping with this franchise’s track record.
Consistent characterisation was sacrificed willy-nilly for the sake of the plot, and none of the characters felt like they had a compelling goal driving them. A lot of minor things about the world-building and internal consistency irked me, but I could have overlooked them if it weren’t for these huge, glaring issues. Overall, the whole film felt like a gigantic waste of time. At the end of the film, almost nothing had changed: there was very little advancement of the series’ overarching plot, and none of the characters had significantly grown or changed either. And all of this in a runtime of more than two hours. I was left wondering to myself: What was the point of any of that?
And let’s not get into the huge, crushingly stupid plot twist at the very end. I mean, what??? Just, what???????
I’m no stranger to feeling let down and annoyed by Harry Potter films. Of the film adaptations of the original series, I enjoyed a couple (the second and fifth), tolerated a few of them (the first, third and seventh), hated some (the fourth and eighth) and haven’t even seen one of them (the sixth). While a lot of effort clearly went into making them, in my opinion a lot of bafflingly bad decisions were made, particularly in terms of characterisation and writing, and by the end of the series there were more unresolved plot holes than I could count.
So I didn’t go into Fantastic Beasts looking to relive the “magic” of the original film series, and that’s probably why I liked the first Fantastic Beasts film: it was so much better than I’d expected. Given that the source material for Fantastic Beasts was literally a textbook, the film essentially started with a clean slate, with no pre-existing expectations for the characters or plot. I’m prepared to admit that as a fanatical lover of the Harry Potter books, I was always going to be picky about the original films. I could accept that changes would need to be made, but did they have to be that stupid– ahem. Anyway.
So for me, sitting in the cinema yesterday felt unpleasantly like a return to form for the Harry Potter films. With every transparently plot-driven character decision, every element that blatantly contradicted the previous film and what has been established in the rest of the Potter universe, I was left thinking – as I used to every time I watched a Harry Potter film – “How stupid do you think we are?”
Because honestly, The Crimes of Grindelwald felt insulting to me: it seemed to believe that Harry Potter fans wouldn’t remember a single detail from the previous films they’d watched, and would unquestioningly love the film because “OMG, Johnny Depp! Jude Law! Eddie Redmayne! Magic! CGI creatures! Oooh, they referenced another surname from the Harry Potter series, I feel clever because I noticed!”
There were a couple of things that I genuinely liked, but honestly, they were really few. I enjoyed Jude Law as Dumbledore and could happily have watched an entire film of him and Newt interacting, or him teaching students at 1920s Hogwarts. And although I didn’t really dig the Newt/Tina romance from the first film (it was okay, it just felt stilted and a bit forced, and its clear inevitability took the charm out of watching it develop), they had a genuinely cute moment in the second film that I enjoyed.
(Except that it took place right in the middle of what should have been a tense sequence, which is exactly what I mean about the plot of the film having zero stakes or urgency).
Jude Law as Dumbledore: One of the only things I liked about the second Fantastic Beasts film
Again, what did I really expect? Not a lot; but I was hoping for some gems of redeemable canon that I could clutch to my chest and carry with me out of the cinema into the world of fanfiction, where they could develop into nuanced and interesting headcanons.
Instead, I’m preparing to spend the rest of the weekend re-reading my favourite fics from the first film and pretending that these are the only sequels we’ve ever had.
Hit me up if you’d like some recs!