Two years ago, post watching Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them I thought I was being really witty giving the answer ‘Huh [snort] more like “fine beasts than fantastic? to the question ‘What did you think of the movie?” Watching it in preparation for this sequel I realised that, whilst the tone and delivery of this statement wasn’t nearly as funny as I thought it was – the statement itself was rather true. The film was fine. It was another chance to return to a fantasy world that had been an integral part of my life for about two decades. I might not have cared all that much for the characters but the visuals were great and I was reasonably entertained. This film, however, has tested my patience with this incarnation of the franchise. It truly is the latest LOTR/Hobbit, original trilogy vs new trilogy of Star Wars. My ingrained loyalty and goodwill with it, and J.K Rowling in general, is fading fast. In fact, it fades even more each time I think about this latest outing.
Several months have passed since Newt (Redmayne) visited New York and became involved in the capturing of the powerful dark wizard Grindelwald (Depp), meeting and swiftly becoming enamoured with auror Tina (Waterstone) in the process. Since then Newt has been stuck in London, due to a travel ban put in place by the Ministry of Magic, and he’s not heard from Tina in a long time. When Grindelwald escapes, arriving in Paris to ensnare the vulnerable Credence (Miller), Dumbledore is unable to help due to past loyalties. He must rely on Newt, his protege to help, in the process leading Newt to be tested in a way he’s never been tested before.
Whilst watching I had moments when I got caught up in the film and thought to myself ‘This is actually a good bit!’ Then I’d realise the problem with that statement. The very fact that the film was having ‘a good bit’ means that it was an uncommon occurrence; that the film itself wasn’t ‘good’ overall. Upon reflection the film doesn’t hold up well at all. Whilst it puts on a good action sequence or set piece, it never makes up for the sum of its parts.
There’s too many characters for one thing. With so many characters it’s harder to develop their individual arcs and storylines. Avengers: Infinity War could have gone very badly indeed as a result of this; instead it managed to balance what amounted to over a baker’s dozen of characters very nicely indeed. FBCOG is not Infinity War. Each character gets a brief bit of running time and very little to actually do, with some coming off far better than others. For instance, Queenie (Sudol), endeared so many during the first film. She came across as sweet, tender, charming, kind-hearted and smarter than she appeared. That all gets undone instantly here.
There’s also the fact that the film undermines so much of the canon of knowledge associated with the franchise. The previously established biographies and family histories of some characters get massively rewritten. This makes for a frustrating viewing experience for the most loyal of fans and a confusing one for those less familiar with the franchise. All of this takes places in a manner absent of the wonder of the HP films, with little atmosphere (unless dreary counts as atmosphere) as characters walk from one place to the next speaking in exposition. The end result is a filler film, a stepping stone movie to the next part of the franchise.
And yet, the film’s very worst offense, is the presence of Depp himself. He’s the equivalent of a dementor, absorbing any and all of the joy and charm the rest of the cast work hard to magic up. How is character is portrayed is truly unappealing, made almost funny by the references to Grindelwald’s infamous charisma. How he’s constructed is even more problematic, with his much-discussed and theorised relationship with Dumbledore being shoehorned in through the manner of distilled allusion.
His being there epitomises this film’s overarching problem, this is a film made with the intent for profiting off the fans without actually caring for them.
Dir: David Yates
Scr: J.K. Rowling
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner
Prd: J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves, David Heyman
DOP: Philippe Rousselot
Music: James Newton Howard
Run time: 134 minutes
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is in UK cinemas from Friday 16th November.