Main cast: Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander), Katherine Waterston (Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein), Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski), Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein), Zoë Kravitz (Leta Lestrange), Callum Turner (Theseus Scamander), Ezra Miller (Credence), Claudia Kim (Nagini), William Nadylam (Yusuf Kama), Jude Law (Albus Dumbledore), and Johnny Depp (Gellert Grindelwald)
Director: David Yates
If the title Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald seem like a meaningless jumble of words thrown together to you, well, that’s because the movie is exactly that: jumbles of things thrown together because JK Rowling and David Yates are so in love with CGI and setting up future movies that they forget to put together a coherent movie in the first place.
You may be wondering why this movie would cast Johnny Depp, an actor who is so past his sell-by date that he now looks as bad as he smells. Well, that’s likely because making this movie is Ms Rowling’s chance to breathe the same rarefied air as Jude Law and Mr Depp, two men who could distract her for her determination to make an utter rear end of a donkey of herself on Twitter. Still, it pains me to say this, but Mr Depp phoning in his usual grandstanding, scenery-chewing shtick actually works for a villain such as Gellert Grindelward. As for Jude Law, he doesn’t have much to do here but he is always very nice to look at, so there’s that.
And given how quickly the author, scriptwriter, and producer quickly reduces her supposed main cast into props for her to pontificate over Grindlewald and Dumbledore, something tells me Ms Rowling probably has a huge collection of stories written by fans about how the two men sodomize one another with extreme passion for her personal enjoyment. Not that this movie is overtly gay, of course – the furthest it goes is Dumbledore announcing that he and Grindy are “more than just friends”. Mind you, this downplaying isn’t for the sake of the kids – this movie has elements of rape, the drowning of a baby, and the murder of a young child, among other things, to make this one a pretty dark film all around. I wonder whether she regrets giving these characters names like Grindleward and Dumbledore in the first place, because it’s really hard to evoke any emotion other than cringe with those names.
Back to Dumbledore being fabulous, there is really no reason for him to be gay in the first place. His sexuality had no relevance to the story in the Harry Potter books, and we only know he likes men because Ms Rowling decided that people would love her more if she invested in some cheap virtue signaling at a time when doing so would not affect the sales of her books. Well, she’s now stuck with having to gay up the two characters, and she had already alienated the more ridiculous fans she drew in with her cheap, disingenuous virtue signaling – those fans would only be satisfied with a hardcore man-on-man sex scene complete with close-ups of the money shot when the two characters aren’t spending the rest of the screen time announcing how gay they are.
Not that I believe this “gay-washing” will cost Ms Rowling her bottom line. If the franchise eventually fails to draw in the profits to make up for the expensive production costs, it’d be because the movies by themselves aren’t good, rather than because they aren’t films of Grindingwang on Dumbybackdoor for two hours plus on the screen.
Anyway, back to this movie – as I’ve mentioned, Newt and friends are mere props in this movie. The focus is on Grindelward’s reemergence into the world and how he sets his plans in motion, while Newt and friends scramble around in a futile attempt to stop him. Yes, this movie isn’t any good as a standalone – you need to either watch the previous movie or buy that script of the movie that served as the “novelization” of that film to fully catch up – and it also ends in a way that sets up future movies. What started out as a Pokémon Go movie for British kids has morphed into some long-running arc about Newt being the go-between as Dumbledore and Grindelward scowl at one another across continents and such, all because JK Rowling wants to be in the same space as Mr Depp and Mr Law for a long period of time, probably dreaming that they would tell her how much they love reading her ill-researched scolding and nagging of everyone and anyone.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald opens in a way that negates all emotional resonance from the previous movie: Credence isn’t dead; he’s now in a circus in France as part of his efforts track down the name of the woman listed as his mother on his birth certificate. Grindelward wants him back. Then we meet Thaddeus, Newt’s brother. Wait, is this a new character? I don’t remember seeing him in the previous movie. Thaddeus is with Auror Office of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, so that sort of puts him at odds with Newt, who just wants to remain impartial and responsibility-free despite the fact that Grindy is coming to pull a Genghis Khan on both wizzies and Muggles. Thaddeus is engaged to Leta Lestrange, who apparently has a thing for Newt from their days in Hogwarts. I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care for this as (a) Leta pops out of nowhere and (b) neither brother seems to be emotionally attached to her at all, making this “love triangle” dead on arrival. She has that usual “Ooh, people treated me badly when I was a kid and now I think I want to be evil, woo!” thing but it’s nowhere as developed as Credence’s similar angst, so who knows why we even need this character in this movie in the first place.
I don’t know how to describe the plot of this movie other than to say, “Things just happen!”. The whole thing is basically the main characters doing things that end up causing their paths to eventually intersect. Newt wants to chase after Tina, who is still as stupid and useless as she was in the previous movie, because they broke up when she joined ranks with the Aurors and Newt is too cool to do that responsible thing. Now she thinks that Newt is engaged to Leta so she acts all emotional and dumb. To be fair, Newt is similarly a dumb kid stuck in a young man’s body, so these two deserve one another. Queenie, who was adorable in the previous movie, is now all offended and annoyed because she wants to get married NOW regardless of the consequences so how dare Jacob decides otherwise. Doesn’t he know that when a strong, independent woke woman wants something, a man is supposed to immediately acquiesce and say, “YAAAS KWEEN!”? Seriously, these four characters are so annoying now, to a degree that even that hair they stick on poor Eddie Redmayne starts to irritate me too.
Interestingly, Grindelward is actually a compelling character. Ms Rowling may be a blithering cringe generator on Twitter, blindly supporting acts of violence perpetuated by people of color because she wants to be a woke queen herself, but her portrayal of Grindelward is a compelling demonstration of how a charismatic demagogue can exploit the anger and a perceived sense of victimization among his audience to weaponize them in order to further his own agenda. This isn’t anything new to people who know their history, but there is an awareness in the creation and development of Grindelward that is completely absent in her social media presence. On the other hand, poor Dumbledore remains the eye-rolling asshole who sends people into danger without fully informing them of what they are up against, while acting either smug or condescending depending on the time of the day. The smugness and condescension is present to overflowing in Ms Rowling’s social media, so maybe these two characters are the Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde of her psyche.
The movie itself is a chore to sit through for three reasons.
One, the characters don’t talk anymore – they engage more often in exposition, going on and on about things that they should already know and hence have no reason to natter on about.
Two, the movie is as long as it is because these folks love their CGIs so much that there are many scenes here that are included just to show off all the fancy and shiny things one can do with expensive studio software. “Damn, we have gone three minutes without some CGI diarrhea attack, so let’s put in a dragon. Look up at Ronald, cast, and pretend that he’s a dragon that suddenly appears out of nowhere, and yes, Eddie, you’re holding some magical platypus that can shoot fireworks from out of its ass…” seems to be how Mr Yates and the script operate.
Sad thing is, most of the CGIs look fake, and I find myself thinking that the fantastic beasts in The Neverending Story – which came out in 1984, mind you – look so much more realistic in comparison. For example, compare the Chinese lion thing in this movie to Falkor. Falkor blinks and looks around in a pretty realistic manner for a movie of that time, but that Chinese lion thing here in this movie looks like a plushie clumsily stuck into the movie with barely any facial animation. Those dead, unblinking eyes… shudder.
Also, some of the CGI scenes can be too frantic for their own good. Take the opening scene of Grindy’s prison breakout: the horses leap off the precipice and transform into ravens. Why? Why not just become ravens right away? Oh, right, the CGI budget needs to be spent. Grindy then has his henchman attack the Ministry dude with some monster. Okay. And then he floods the entire carriage with water. Why do that when the monster is already attacking the dude? CGI baby. And then he throws the Ministry dude down to the sea from the flying carriage, but allows the guy to save himself at the last minute. So what is the point of the monster and the flooding and the throwing off of the dude from the flying carriage? CGI, because otherwise there is no point; Grindy could have easily escaped without having to engage in such theatrics that end up letting that dude get away anyway. Many scenes in this movie are just extended equivalents of JK Rowling and David Yates having CGI diarrhea, and they need to take a dump on the screen regardless of whether or not it is needed for the story so that the audience can all go, “Wow! Shiny things! Loud things! Explosions! Whee!”
Three, there are many characters that show up and remain so underdeveloped to the very end. As I’ve mentioned, Leta is pointless in this movie. A number of characters show up in basically glorified cameos – they come, and they go, and Ms Rowling claps her hands in glee because she is so happy they came and went. Take Nagini. To anyone who hasn’t read those Harry Potter books, she’d be just the token Asian character who can turn into a snake, and that’s all there is to her. Maybe they would have more significant roles in future movies, but in this one, these people are just taking up space. If the people behind this movie had cut down the number of superfluous characters and performed some self restraint when it comes to scenes that are just excuses for fake-looking CGI to run rampant, this movie might start to make sense.
But then again, this movie is basically a vanity project for Ms Rowling to boss about the men she has always had a crush on, for everyone else involved to get a paycheck, and the studio to get some nice inflow of profits as, let’s face it, the brand alone will move people into the cinemas. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is one of those movies that practically demand the brain to be shut down in order to be enjoyed.