By: Felix Felicis (Four Beers) –
It’s that time of year again, Boozers. The air is crisp, the leaves are a gangbang of Fall foliage hues, and it’s time to peel the potatoes before your family comes over to judge your clothes, your house, and your life’s direction. It’s ALSO time for the second Potterverse spinoff sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (also reviewed by yours truly), Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The Johnny Depp of it all aside, I was moderately stoked for this bad boy to come down the pike. More beasts! More Eddie Redmayne as an adorkable, somewhere-on-the-spectrum, underdog hero! More Ezra Miller! That guy is a gosh-darned delight and TOO PURE FOR THIS WORLD. Much like Bjork, I don’t understand him but I can’t stop wondering what he’ll say, do, or -more importantly- wear next.
Fantastic Beasts 2 (good luck getting me to type out the entire title every time) follows the escape of Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) from the American Ministry of Magic (think Prison Break with wands and, jarringly enough, abrupt lizardcide) and the subsequent wizard-hunt for him. Enter Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a perpetually fish-out-of-social-waters wizard, who gets tapped by Dumbledore (a foxy, bespectacled Jude Law) to hunt him down and foul his rudder (basically put a stop to his genocidal, racist wizard shit immeowdiately).
Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) spends most of the movie as a bone (pun surprisingly not intended) of contention between the brewing war of wizarding factions while he searches for anything he can find out about who he actually is (break for Christina Aguilera, Mulan, “Reflection” solo – okay I’m back) with his Gal Friday (and future Voldemort horcrux) the blood-cursed Maledictus, Nagini (Claudia Kim – you saw her as Dr. Helen Cho in Age of Ultron). Other narrative arcs include Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) drama (💔), Newt and Tina (Katherine Waterston) drama (😳) and Newt and Leta (Zoe Kravitz) drama (😒). Keep ya peepers peeled for a pretty baller character cameo/minor role (think like if R.B.G were a wizard in the Potterverse). Fantastic Beasts 2 plays out more like a magical episode of Jersey Shore (if everyone was obsessed with “landing” Credence and hated everyone else in the house for “reasons” – it’s less of an epic adventure with wands against adversity and more like a dysfunctional dip in the shallow end of sorcery) than anything else. Fantastic Beasts 2 somewhat breaks with cannon and *may* break your last brain cell in the process depending on how much of a hardcore Potterhead you are. Add a dash of obscure-yet-repetitive prophecy and put on your best Holiday Ball robes, it’s time to get Fantastic.
Fantastic Beasts 2 was written and adapted by J.K. Rowling herself, the buck (sadly not the Buckbeak) starts and stops with her. Rowling continues to build a fascinating 1920’s wizarding world and stocks it with compelling characters returning from the first film (Newt, Tina, Jacob, Queenie, Credence, etc.) as well as introducing fascinating new characters (our first looks at Young Dumbledore , Human Nagini, and the R.B.G Wizard Surprise Role, for starters). The ensemble cast shines together and reminds us why Rowling is a Character Queen. There’s few as good as, or better, than Rowling at building worlds and filling them with people you actually care about.
The creatures (whenever they’re allowed to appear onscreen) are beautifully rendered and never fail to captivate (much of Fantastic Beasts 2 is, sadly, taken up with all-too-human drama – but you get your galleon’s worth when they do show up). The magic of the first film in the Fantastic franchise is still present in the second, even if it is muted by an often overly grim tone (yes, yes, I GET IT THEY’RE SETTING UP A WIZARDING CIVIL WAR BUT, C’MON MAN, HARRY POTTER DID THE SAME THING AND MANAGED TO AVOID DIRECT HOLOCAUST COMPARISONS – it can be done). Kudos especially to Leta Lestrange for taking what agency she could with her role and delivering a powerful femme finale scene (up until her last line which killed all the momentum she’d managed to gather – BUT GIRL YOU WERE SO CLOSE TO YOUR ‘LEMONADE’ MOMENT). So close.
Steering clear of Cursed Child waters, Fantastic Beasts 2 was nevertheless filled with plot fails and retcon-canon blunders. From the completely superfluous addition of Professor Minerva McGonagall, who should, by all accounts, be negative eight-years-old at the time Fantastic Beasts 2 takes place, much less in her twenties (or thirties) and teaching alongside Professor Dumbledore at Hogwarts. Pro-McGonagall camps don’t care (it’s a movie, just enjoy it!) and if J.K. Rowling had built her wizarding world on top of anything less than a METICULOUS attention to detail, I’d be inclined to agree. But she did. So I don’t. If you fudge a detail or two here and there, fine, but don’t cover the demolition of established canon under the umbrella of “willing suspension of disbelief” because, and I’ll tell you what I tell those organized crime bosses who, annually, try and sell me cookies outside of supermarkets… I’m. Not. Buying.
Additional plot fails muddy already murky seas where kelpies lurk, ready to pull unsuspecting theatergoers to their doom. The incoherent prophecy often mumbled about in Fantastic Beasts 2 propels many events of the film forward, and, not unlike Ron and Harry who flew their invisible car into a Whomping Willow, this flick isn’t afraid to give you narrative whiplash on the bumpy ride across the finish line. Credence Barebones’ true identity is the fulcrum upon which Fantastic Beasts 2 turns and it’s a jarring exploration at best. In addition to that, when shit does get explained, it doesn’t really help. At all.
My actual thought process:
“Okay, who took what baby WHERE again? Why is Leta Lestrange afraid of a floating Won Ton? If Credence is who Grindelwald says he is then J.K. Rowling just BLEW SOME CANON RIGHT THE FUCK UP as that timeline doesn’t track and if he ISN’T who Grindelwald says he is (and he can’t be who it’s initially thought he might be) then WHO THE FUCK IS CREDENCE BAREBONES because one giant detail near the end makes it seem like if he isn’t *exactly* the person he thinks he is, the ashes aren’t rising very far from the original flames (this’ll make sense- kind of- at the end).”
Fantastic Beasts 2 suffers like dry-clean-only material put through a tumbled-on-high-and-left-to-wrinkle- overnight dryer cycle of an execution. The chaotic-evil editing and splintered narrative throughline serves up more of what you don’t need (tortured, overwrought interpersonal dynamics) and less of the hoped-for satisfying substance that you do (Newt’s struggle to walk the line between picking a side in a conflict created by men and his duty/love of creature care and conservation). The magical Jane Goodall of it all, Newt’s struggle as he’s manipulated further and further into an all-too-human dispute, isn’t given nearly enough focus. A flick and a swish or two of a giant-kitty taming toy is about all you get. Also, the not-quite(?) queerbaiting canon of Dumbledore and Grindelwald is given ONE flashback scene in the Mirror of Erised where interlocking fingers are meant to convey sexual subtext but ultimately, and BARELY, pays an afterthought of patronizing lip service to fans desperately hoping for more than a fleeting thirst trap for queer and/or allied Potterheads.
I’m dragging my feminist soapbox out again so get ready. The narrative juice here is, questionably (and quite possibly) not worth the squeeze as all those elements mentioned above are joined by a HOLY SHIRT, (The Good Place dialogue, slang, and sayings are never far from my lexicon) SUBVERSIVELY TOXIC, AND NOT-SO-FEMINIST-FRIENDLY ENVIRONMENT. Just have a think about every female lead in Fantastic Beasts 2 and whether or not she had a character arc that *didn’t* involve her relationship, importance to, or association with (romantic or otherwise) another male character. I’ll wait.
There are a lot of good moments in Fantastic Beasts 2, and I’m not even mad about what they did to SEVERAL of my favorite characters. I understand that this is a five-film franchise and there has to be a buttload of sour before the sweet (buttload is a scientific measurement, just trust me, no, you don’t have to google it, I SAID YOU DON’T HAVE TO-). That said, Fantastic Beasts 2 is weighted down (and lost a lot of individual charm) as it focused on setting up the sequel (and franchise) overall. Grindelwald was in the title and hardly appeared – much less committed crimes onscreen heinous enough to be the focus of a title card (Voldemort did WAY WORSE onscreen and we never saw a peep about Harry Potter And Have You Heard About The Heinous Shit Voldemort Has Gotten Away With Lately). All flash and no substance is not how I like my villains (unless we’re talking about a Darkside Barry Allen and then, if so-
Also, something about Newt’s character arc felt fundamentally wrong to me. It might be a little patronizing to have a man (with the core character strength Newt has) who initially refuses to choose sides in a conflict suddenly choose one at the end because it makes your resolution a little smoother. Sure, there are compelling factors that explain the choice, but it’s a little too pat for a character as complicated as Newt.
And, finally, this is not a kids movie. I’m going to say it again for the cheap seats in the back – THIS IS NOT A KIDS MOVIE. The original Harry Potter series wasn’t meant to be a children’s series (but got shoehorned in as one due to the age of the characters) and it came under raging hellfire and audience critique for getting as dark as it did near the end. Similarly, Fantastic Beasts and Fantastic Beasts 2, while largely family-friendly (depending on the kind of conversations you want to have with your kids after watching it) gets dark. SUPER DARK. They’re not even trying to be subtle about it. Hammer meet nail. Agency over your own mind and body, death, genocide, and more may come up if you park your crotch spawn in front of this flick. You’ve been warned.
Cluster meet fuck. Fantastic Beasts 2 was a Gordian Knot even J.K. Rowling’s narrative sword couldn’t cut through. Everything you loved about the first film was in this one (BABY. GODDAMNED. NIFFLERS), but it was tossed into a blender with franchise-building framework and stuck on “puree” that left this second Beasts with very little redeemable Beauty (not to mention a slightly chalky aftertaste). I honestly can’t even pick a side of the recommendation fence to land on. Go see it. Or don’t. You’ve made worse decisions. Or maybe not. Who knows.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every mention/recitation/explanation of The Prophecy.
Take a Sip: for each new creature you see. Take Two: when the Nifflers niffle.
Take a Drink: whenever a witch or wizard puts on, takes off, and/or loses a disguise.
Do a Shot: for the best use of kitty tinkle toys (possibly) of all time. Take Two: for the Credence reveal.
Shotgun Your Beer: when Newt and Co. have to fight Finale fire with fire.