Dozens Of 'Harry Potter' Connections Can't Save 'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald'
The sequel really hopes you've seen the 'Harry Potter' movies.
The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sequel isn't as compelling as the original and the original isn't as compelling as the Harry Potter franchise it's spun off from. The world of Fantastic Beasts suffers by inevitable comparison. Newt Scamander? Harry Potter he is not. In fact, he's not even as interesting as his bag of creatures he so dutifully cares for. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald looks like a Harry Potter movie. It has some crossover appeal. But Fantastic Beasts remains a lesser spin-off.
As a non-Potterhead, I judge Fantastic Beasts unchained to the canon franchise. I was never enraptured by Potter to begin with. But it's impossible not to be wowed by J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World and all the production design that comes with it. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will give you your money's worth in theaters. It's a circus of sights and sounds, wondrous animals, beautiful people, beautiful gay people, kinda beautiful scary people, 1920s art deco, and even Hogwarts makes an appearance. Story is, well, another story. There's a lot going on. Too much in fact, to make for a sensible film. Loose ends abound, and I was surprised by the amount of killing... for no real reason. Much of the movie is spectacle to make Potter connections.
The sequel begins like many of the Harry Potter films. Director David Yates (who's helmed the last five Potter/Wizarding movies) has his methods. He likes to establish dread first, and return to it later. The dread in this one is right in the title. The dastardly wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) stages a daring mid-air escape, an event that sends shockwaves throughout the Wizarding World.
Grindelwald's escape puts the Aurors, the good guy wizards, on high alert. Newt's more dashing brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), wants him to choose sides and we learn there's a bit of scandal involving the Scamander boys. Theseus is engaged to Newt's old flame Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), but Newt barely notices. He's too busy with a couple new creatures (one of which, the cat-faced Zouwu, is quite a scene-stealer). Old friends Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) also join in.
Potter scholars will likely perk up at the mention of the name "LeStrange" and the Fantastic Beasts sequel doesn't stop there. In many ways the movie simply jumps from one Potter reference to the next. Another big one is Nagini (Claudia Kim) who appears in very human form (sometimes) as a shapeshifter who watches over a mysterious, mute wizard named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller). He becomes essential to Grindelwald's evil plans. The world is at stake, of course, and topical terms like "pure blood" are thrown around. Grindelwald is kind of a Nazi wizard and the Aurors have to unite to take him down. But there's more to the villain that meets the eye, and the end reveals more story that will lead to more sequels. (Three more are planned.)
One other old name Potterheads will salivate over is Dumbledore (Jude Law), who's a perfect gentleman in his younger years. The Hogwarts professor is shown in one memorable flashback with Grindelwald, forming a blood pact and seeming quite taken with the future evil maestro. A romance (or something important) between the two characters is more than hinted at. And it's just another puzzle piece to remember. There are stories on top of backstories on top of flashbacks in this movie and it's all overload.
Details are well and good, but much is lost amongst all the other diversions of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald. The story is all over the place. Newt Scamander remains the biggest problem, however. Fantastic Beasts needs a hero, someone the audience can latch on to and care about for all the sequels to come. The character is frustratingly written, always in some kind of trouble, and, most of all, unfocused. As great as the creatures are, he's gotta come back to the real world for these movies to work.