With Screen Actors Guild and Visual Effects Society voting for academy awards approaching, my family has been spending the last few days watching a lot of movie screeners we’ve been accruing. Hence my (not so) little review of Aquaman last night and my intent to do some more 2018 movie discussions this weekend.
Today we watched two movies with interesting points I wanted to talk about, but Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald wound up being a much more impassioned subject than I expected. So I think I’ll save Green Book for later.
Gotta split up my writing a little bit, get some mileage for my daily writings.
I’ll be focusing more on one specific point that I feel did this film and the themes it creates a huge disservice, so the post as a whole won’t be as much of a general ‘go see or don’t see’ review. Those elements will be there, but I’ll be a bit more open with spoilers and such.
So if that concerns you, you’ve been warned.
There’s no reason to hide the fact that I’ve always been a big Harry Potter fan. Grew up reading all the books with my Mom, and we’ve seen the movies together too.
I’m not exactly that super-fan who remembers each detail about the series, as that’s a kind of person I’ve met and felt pretty inadequate next to. But I am a huge fan all the same, and I’ve been excited to see Crimes of Grindelwald.
A lot of that excitement actually stems from the fact that I quite enjoyed the first Fantastic Beasts movie in its own right.
It had a very fun energy to examining wizards in America, rather than Britain, in the 1920’s. But that along wouldn’t have carried the movie quite as well without Eddie Redmayne taking the helm as Newt Scamander.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s always something charming about the copacetic magic of Daniel Radcliffe and his friends evolving from innocent school kids to warriors in a world-changing duel against wizard Hitler.
But after eight movies following those kids, it was pretty refreshing to watch someone new, and Redmayne was definitely something new and refreshing.
I actually don’t think I fully understood what was so nice about his character until I watched this video by the Pop Culture Detective about the actor’s more nontraditional take on a usually hyper-masculine hero archetype and how it goes to enrich the movie’s themes.
I’d highly recommend watching that, because it puts some nice perspective into what made Newt’s hijinx-filled journey through New York so fun.
Crimes of Grindelwald takes things in a vastly different direction than the original Fantastic Beasts. From the first few moments Newt is present, it’s revealed that the fun adventure in Fantastic Beasts was all in service of a young Albus Dumbledore (played fairly well by Jude Law) trying to get the protagonist involved in a fight against Johnny Depp’s older wizard Hitler, Grindelwald.
The second movie takes on a far darker tone and digs way deeper into the lore of the universe (much like the later Harry Potter stories), and this tonal shift colors the first with an interesting bit of hindsight.
Depp’s character perfectly highlights the weird and uncomfortable air this change creates. He’s sometimes doing a goofy Jack Sparrow-esque routine of glancing into windows wide-eyed, but those moments happen concurrently with scenes where he and his people are slaughtering families.
I wasn’t sure I liked the dichotomy being played out until later scenes came up that showed how his almost goofier, more relatable side makes him an enticing figure in the wizarding world, the kind of leader people will follow no matter how monstrous his means to an end are.
It plays well into the rise of fascism undercurrent to the movie (which conveniently takes place before World War II and uses the impending war as a plot device), and in the end I loved the way every character’s story weaved in.
… Except for one of them, which became such a problem for me that I’d almost say it ruined a significant chunk of the movie.
Ezra Miller’s Credence was a huge part of the first movie, as it was revealed the boy who essentially housed a demonic creature was being conditioned by Grindelwald to help destroy the government. As the Pop Culture Detective lays out in his video, part of the tragedy that made Fantastic Beasts so compelling comes when Newt cannot save Credence before he’s torn apart by magic attacks.
It was a really powerful scene…
Until you get to this movie and find out he’s somehow still alive?
Unless I missed something, there’s no explanation as to how or why Credence survived. Just that fact that Newt won’t help the government try to kill him again.
As a result of this early reveal, most of the plot lines for main characters are extremely reiterative of the first movie. They’re searching for Credence before he can be used by Grindelwald for evil.
It made me feel like the first movie mattered far less, and Miller’s portrayal of a far more darkly-influenced Credence was a less compelling compelling subject to save than the scared child of Fantastic Beasts.
My problem wasn’t that his character has developed, it’s that his character should have been dead.
Without that, it felt like so much of the world and it’s characters took too many steps back from their developments.
That was enough of a problem for me that no matter how much I enjoyed the slowly-converging plot threads, the lovely European backdrops and the beasts that made the first movie so fantastic, the overall package felt much more empty.
… Oh, and for some reason all of the advertising focuses a lot on the Deathly Hallows imagery, but I don’t believe any of that showed up in the movie. Just saying.
That’s just my opinion on what really hurt an otherwise great movie, though. But if you have a different take on the issue, feel free to let me know!
I’m always up to opening a den of discussion.