Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Tom’s Rating: 5/10 – Lucy’s Rating: Zzz/10.
Fortunately for the Warner Bros., I went to see Widows first, so the bar had been set pretty low by the time I settled in to watch the second Fantastic Beasts. While the magic of the Potter universe never really washes off, this iteration was perhaps the least enjoyable of the now ten-strong fold of films. In many ways, this film felt like a (very, very) extended advert for Fantastic Beasts 3, with several narrative arcs extending well beyond the end of this sequel.
On the plus side, the magic world is still as fantastical as ever. From the nostalgic return of a younger Hogwarts, to the architectural wonders of magical ministry buildings, I still love that synthesis between the recognisable and the unbelievable. Newt’s TARDIS-esque briefcase remains such a simple but compelling device that, cinematically, works so well. In short: the setting, the costumes, and the visual effects were as good as they have ever been.
But visual candy alone cannot carry what is a long and tedious plot line, that asked too much of my patience. Credence’s quest to uncover his heritage is a nice and sturdy storyline, and the final revelation is truly revelatory. But it shouldn’t take two hours to debunk a theory, let alone one that serves as this film’s entire story arc.
Yet, at the same time, this unnecessarily laborious goose-chase leaves little room to fully develop, or convince, viewers of other seemingly important events. Why, for example, is Queenie so susceptible to the advances of Grindelwald? Sure, she argued with Jacob, but was that argument really large enough (especially considering the context) to warrant her joining the magical equivalent of the dark side? And in her penultimate scene, crossing Grindelwald’s fiery threshold, does it not even fleetingly occur to her that her love for Jacob stands in direct contradiction to the worldview she newly embraces? The twist was not rushed (nothing in this film was rushed), but it lacked the justification to make it believable.
I also found the explicit and implicit allusions to World War Two towards the end a little obvious. The peace ploy touted by Grindelwald to convince magicians to join his cause was largely absent from the first ninety-five percent of the film, and was better for it. The metaphoric allusions in the final scene, set in the Swiss mountains, with Queenie’s hair now as starkly white as Grindelwald’s, were far too coarse to be truly introspective of that horrific period of history.
Given the film’s very title, there was also a distinct lack of fantastic beasts. Yes, the oversized mole steals Grindelwald’s blood pact vial. And, ok, the cat-dragon buys them enough time to escape from the French ministry, but these “beasts” were seemingly incidental to the main plot of the film. Ultimately Newt escapes by apparating (which we thought you could not do on Ministry grounds), and the vial is a good trinket but little more at this point. Nor did Newt overcome his international travel ban (which served no purpose to the film at all) by flying to France on some rare specimen. The first Fantastic Beasts was so alluring because the beasts were so fantastic, but they were markedly less so in part two.
Overall, the film was fine. It will not stop me from going to see number three, but that’s because I grew up alongside this universe and it is hard to shake that feeling of wonder. But the film itself did little to spark any new fascination, and I left with substantially less enthusiasm than when I went in. It left so little in Lucy, she was asleep 90 minutes in!