The last paragraph of this ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald’ review contains spoilers.
Let me begin by saying, Harry Potter changed my life.
I remember being only eight years old when I watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on the big screen at a local theatre. As a little kid, I remember being wide-eyed when I saw a bearded old man in a long dress (back then, I didn’t know it was called a robe) click his lighter which then absorbed the street lights from Privet Drive — I wondered why my dad’s lighter wasn’t as cool. I remember feeling sad watching the way the Dursleys treated the eleven-year-old Harry Potter. I remember being perplexed, just as Harry was, when the half-giant named Hagrid burst through the narrow door of the little house on the island and says, “Yer a wizard Harry.”
I remember beaming when Harry and his fellow first years walked through the large doors of the Great Hall for the very first time. I remember being scared when Professor Quirrell removed his turban to reveal a snaky talking face at the back of his head. And I remember tearing up happy tears when Harry said, “I’m not going home, not really” as he and his two best friends stared not into the horizon, but at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as the Hogwarts Express slowly chugged away and John Williams’ beautiful score swelled. I discovered the magic of movies that day.
I also asked my parents to buy me all the Harry Potter books (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling the cover of the first book read — why not ‘Sorcerer’s Stone’ I wondered). These books went on to fuel my passion for reading and writing. I read them over and over and over again. I would read them on the bus, during my school assembly, the first thing in the morning, before I went to bed at night, I would even tuck it behind my thick science textbook as I pretended to study.
Over the years, I’ve been vocal about how I’m not as big a fan of the movies as I am the books. I didn’t like how many of the later movies substituted dark themes and harrowing ordeals (i.e. Elfish welfare, the meeting with the muggle minister, Voldemort’s backstory and Death Eaters torturing / implied sexually harassing people at the Quidditch World Cup) for glitz and bombastic CGI set pieces. However, the movies still gave us characters we came to really care about and they always had loads of heart.
Which brings me to Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Or should I say, Fantastic Beasts: The Phantom Menace. Or Fantastic Beasts: I gotcha money mafakas! Is this how the old people who watched the original Star Wars trilogy in cinemas felt when they saw little Darth Vader pod racing in 1999? Like you’re being trolled by someone who’s purposely trying to taint something you love dearly and ruin your childhood, teenhood, adulthood and life in general? Because what the heck is Crimes of Grindelwald?
After my press screening, a friend and fellow Harry Potter fan excitedly texted me and asked what the movie was about. “Remember, no spoilers please!” he iterated. My response was, “Dude, I couldn’t spoil anything even if someone put a gun to my head and forced me to.” There needs to be some semblance of a story for me to even attempt to spoil. Not aimless, convoluted meandering. Which is what this movie is.
So here’s what happens. The first 90 minutes is basically all our characters coming together (in the most forceful, inorganic manner) and walking around looking for hmm… err… how do I put this…
Okay, let’s see.
Remember the heartbreaking scene from the first movie? The one where Jacob gets his memory wiped out? Well, in this movie J.K. Rowling chooses to conveniently revise that scene. When we first see Jacob Kowalski here, not only does he have his memory back, he’s also in a relationship with Queenie. When Newt asks what/why/how, Jacob and Queenie basically say, “Heh. It is what it is.” I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a middle finger to all of us who shed tears during that emotional scene in the first movie. (In fact, a lot of the movie is J.K. Rowling going, “heh. It is what it is.”) Two minutes later, Queenie gets angry at Jacob and leaves.
Newt spends most of the first half trying to look for Tina because Tina is mad at him after reading in a gossip magazine that he was gonna get married to Leta Lestrange when in actual fact Leta Lestrange is getting married to Newt’s brother. You see, the gossip magazine didn’t fact check and that fuels an entire romantic subplot.
Yeah. I know.
Then there’s everybody else (Leta Lestrange, Newt’s brother, the entire Ministry of Magic, Grindelwald, his henchmen, [later on, the reunited Newt, Tina, Queenie and Jacob]) who are running around looking for Credence because he’s supposedly someone “important” with a mysterious past. But we’re not given any clues. And there’s nothing in the first movie that hints at Credence possibly being the blood of someone special. Nothing in the Harry Potter books either. We’re clueless, just like the rest of the characters who are running around like headless chickens. Talk about a thrilling adventure.
So, let’s recap the first 90 minutes shall we.
- Jacob runs around looking for Queenie for stupid reasons.
- Newt runs around looking for Tina for stupider reasons.
- Everybody runs around looking for Credence for unknown reasons.
In between all of that, there’s a backstory about Leta Lestrange and how she accidentally killed her baby brother on a boat. When she was a kid, she swapped her wouldn’t-stop-crying-brother with another baby… baby Credence. When the boat sank, Leta’s biological brother died and Credence survived. When Leta’s done with her story, all the other characters are like “Holy balls! Does that mean you know who Credence really is?” And Leta’s like “Heh. Nope. Not really.” And we’re once again like:
The movie is titled Crimes of Grindelwald, but by the end of the movie, we don’t see Grindelwald do anything significant for it to warrant that title. His only crime in the movie is gathering a bunch of people and deliver a speech to convince them to join his cause. But is that really a crime, though? Shouldn’t the movie’s title be Peaceful Gathering With Intent to Commit Crime. How is it we get a backstory on Leta Lestrange and an entire subplot that stems from a gossip magazine making an error, but don’t get anything meaningful about Grindelwald and Dumbledore?
I wouldn’t mind even if Rowling and Yates Baahubali-ed the movie. (In Baahubali, the flashback is the meat of the narrative.) Picture this. Grindelwald breaks out of prison (one of two memorable sequences in this movie). Then Dumbledore summons Newt and tells him that he’s gotta be the one who takes down Grindelwald. When Newt asks why Dumbledore can’t do it himself, we cut to a two hour long flashback detailing Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s toxic friendship and relationship, their hunger for power, the three-way duel between Albus Dumbledore & Aberforth Dumbledore (younger brother) and Grindelwald that led to the death of Ariana Dumbledore (younger sister), and the continuous rise of Grindelwald in the dark side. Imagine learning about his Hitlerian ideologies and also SEE the CRIMES he committed — the genocide of muggles and half-bloods.
A lot of what I just said are in the Harry Potter books, which Rowling herself wrote, which is why this movie is just so baffling to me. It almost feels like Rowling resents a lot of the stuff that she wrote (the stuff we love) and is needlessly trying to course correct.
And it is Rowling’s fault by the way, who’s the screenwriter for both the Fantastic Beasts movies (she didn’t pen the scripts for the original Harry Potter films) and not director David Yates’. In fact, as much as I’m not a big fan of Yates, he (and cinematographer Philippe Rousselot) are the reasons why this movie isn’t terrible. This is perhaps the most visually scrumptious Harry Potter film to date with sweeping shots (the one of Hogwarts Castle will give you a boner) and gorgeous set designs. (The performances are good across the board too.) But here’s why I’m not a fan of Yates. His movies always LOOK pretty — he seems to know how to get the best out of his cinematographers — but he doesn’t know how to make those tasty visuals mean anything.
And a good director shouldn’t just be a ‘yes man’, but he, judging by the way the movie plays out, seems to have been J.K. Rowling’s. We all know the phrase ‘attaining Nirvana’. But have you heard of ‘attaining George Lucas’? Well Rowling seems to be on that exact path. This is a directionless, lifeless, oftentimes senseless film that retroactively tries to butcher the established lore, written by my favourite author of all time. And it hurts, really bad.
The first Fantastic Beasts felt like an expansion of Rowling’s Wizarding World, following characters and events that took place years and years before Harry Potter was even born. Look, I do not like the first Fantastic Beasts either. But that’s mostly because I’m not really an animal lover and I find pets annoying. So to see an entire movie centred around a dude running around town chasing cutesy pets that have escaped his suitcase was never going to be my jam. But at the very least, the film has a cohesive story with meaningful character arcs.
Crimes of Grindelwald feels like fan fiction or a compilation of shitty fan theories. Why is Nagini in this movie? More importantly, WHY IS NAGINI A HUMAN WHO CAN TRANSFORM INTO A SNAKE? What’s wrong with Nagini just being Voldemort’s loyal pet snake as it was written in the Harry Potter books? I don’t mind fanservice (in fact I welcome it) IF it’s done right. I swear if in the next movie we learn that Harry Potter is the great grand nephew of Grindelwald’s neighbour’s hooker, there’s going to be a third season of 13 Reasons Why with me as the lead character.
And then there’s the ending. That gloriously shot sequence that makes as much sense as a monkey in a pink dress driving a Ferrari. We finally learn who Credence is. And he’s… Dumbledore’s retconned long lost brother? “Aurelius Dumbledore!!” Grindelwald roars.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
The screenplay from my favourite author of all time is directionless, lifeless, oftentimes senseless. And it hurts, really bad. Crimes of Grindelwald feels like fan fiction or a compilation of shitty fan theories. Why is Nagini in this movie? More importantly, WHY IS NAGINI A HUMAN WHO CAN TRANSFORM INTO A SNAKE?