The Real “Crimes of Grindelwald” Is the Movie
SPOILERS AHEAD: PROCEED WITH CAUTION
I expected Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald to be bad. I’ve been writing about my fears for the movie for most of the last two years. Occasionally, we’d get a reveal that filled me with cautious optimism, usually followed a month later by further evidence it wouldn’t be very good. But going into the theater on Thursday night, dressed as Newt in the face of a snowstorm, I fully expected the movie to be bad, though clinging to a hope that maybe I’d be pleasantly surprised.
I was surprised, all right. As bad as I expected the movie to be, it was SO MUCH WORSE than that. The last half hour, furious tuts kept issuing through the theater. I was among those who booed when the credits rolled. A friend stood at the door to the theater, asking, “Did anyone like it?” Not a single person replied in the affirmative. Even with my expectations as low as they could go, I am genuinely shocked and appalled by Crimes of Grindelwald.
Before we go further, I urge you to click away if you don’t want to read a furious diatribe against the movie. If you enjoyed it… well, I’m baffled, but good for you. There will be no positivity here, no redemptive qualities hopefully highlighted. I am going to exhaust my thesaurus for “no good, very bad” as I highlight some of my biggest problems with this sorry excuse for a film.
And obviously, spoilers ahoy!
The Usual Suspects
There are some complaints that were obvious going in. That just seems to be a feature of these films, and we’ve ranted about them ad nauseam already. So while I’m still furious about them, there’s not much to be said. None of the characters were dressed as wizards. Johnny Depp is gross (though, in fairness, his Grindelwald was refreshingly different from Jack Sparrow). David Yates takes “the films are darker” far too literally and there isn’t a spot of color to be found in this film. Yep, still angry about all of that.
Canon… What Canon?
The issue of what constitutes the Potter canon is one that’s been plaguing the fandom for a good long while. But Crimes of Grindelwald makes clear that it (and by extension, Jo) has no interest in being a part of the Harry Potter book canon. It’s not just small bits that could be overlooked, like McGonagall’s timeline or Dumbledore teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts – neither of which is excused in any way in the film. Much as I suspected, no one could even be bothered with a throwaway line about Professor Merrythought being on sabbatical.
No, there are also big sweeping holes. For instance, Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship is apparently common knowledge in the 1920s, where Ministry officials are freely discussing it in front of everyone. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, their former relationship is treated as an enormous secret, known only to the Dumbledore family and Bathilda Bagshot. That’s an important point: Rita Skeeter’s The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore only matters because of this big reveal. But apparently, anyone over 80 years old should have known about this.
And while we don’t know how this will play out, if Credence is really Aurelius Dumbledore, it utterly beggars belief that he would not rate a passing mention by Elphias Doge, Rita Skeeter, or Aberforth Dumbledore as they discuss Albus’s life. An additional Dumbledore brother, whether real or fake, certainly seems like something that would have come up.
The film also shows the end of the Lestrange family line. So how exactly are there Lestranges still running around in the Potter books? Admittedly, there could be even more hitherto-undiscovered Lestrange babies who end up spawning Rodolphus and Rabastan, but why on earth would we believe that the filmmakers will bother trying to make sense of this?
If we don’t have the Potter canon to work with, how the hell are we supposed to engage with these films in any meaningful way? The backbone of the Potter fandom, always, has been theorizing: If all we have to go on is one decent and one abysmal film, are we really going to wring two years of discussion out of them?
Character Fan Service
Lots of things can be forgiven if there is a good reason for them. If we got to see Minerva McGonagall being a badass, we can move past her existing out of time. But there is no reason – none whatsoever – that she needed to be in this film. All she does is ineffectually chase a misbehaving Leta. This moment is ludicrously out of character: As if McGonagall would ever deign to chase a student instead of using an Impediment Jinx! But it begs the question of why that had to be McGonagall. Was it meant to be a fun Easter egg for fans? Because if so… thanks, but no thanks.
The same goes for Nicolas Flamel. True, we don’t have as much to go on with him, but he makes no sense in this movie. If the Sorcerer’s Stone grants you immortality, but your body is one gust of wind away from crumbling, that doesn’t seem like a very good deal. Nicolas Flamel would have gone on to the “next great adventure” (SS, ch. 17) if his immortal life looked anything like this. But in the movie, it allows for the cheap gag of Jacob’s handshakes – so why bother thinking it through logically?
My other gripe is that Flamel did nothing noteworthy in this movie. Given how much of the Potterverse traffics in themes of death, we could have gotten some really cool stuff out of Flamel. But instead, we’re supposed to laugh at an old man falling apart and then cheer when he participates in a big group spell. That’s not a character, that’s a cameo – another bit of fan service that did not service this fan.
Failing the Sexy Lamp Test
It’s no secret that Jo’s work has often had some issues in terms of representing female characters over the years – the Potter series is very male-dominated, only part of which is excused by the focus being on a boy and his father figures. But never has a work in the wizarding world or otherwise written by Jo Rowling had such an egregious lack of development for female characters.
A helpful test I find is the Sexy Lamp Test: If a woman can be replaced by a sexy lamp with a Post-it on it, then your movie has issues. And Crimes of Grindelwald is full of nothing but sexy lamps.
Worst of all is Nagini. When the reveal came out, the fandom was split. On the one side, people argued that having an Asian woman in the role did not count as good representation. On the other side, people (including me) argued that it’d be awesome to have an Asian woman in such a cool and dramatic role. Well, I retract all of those statements: This is representation at its worst.
Nagini has exactly two lines in the entire movie: “Credence” and “The people here want to kill us.” Other than that, she is a sexy lamp that Credence drags around to fill in the background of the frame, where she looks very prettily worried all the time. Nothing would have changed about the movie if Nagini were not there. And like McGonagall, there is no reason for this “character” (I use the term loosely) to have the name “Nagini,” aside from yet more fan service.
As for the other female characters…
Rosier is a sexy lamp that Grindelwald drags around to fill out the frame (sense a pattern?). All she does is serve as an appreciative audience for Grindelwald’s monologues and offer Queenie tea that one time. You lose Rosier, the movie is completely unchanged.
Seraphina Picquery once again shows up to grumble ominously about Grindelwald for a hot minute. Okay.
Leta Lestrange, the one who was so hyped up as such a cool character, at least serves as a sexy lamp with a Post-it note. She’s there as a receptacle for the Scamanders’ affections and emotional issues, but not for her father’s affection (that’s as close as Leta gets to character development). The biggest part she plays in the story is taking care of various Dumbledore/Lestrange babies; as soon as she has info-dumped all of that, she is disintegrated. Her last line: still all about being a love interest for the Scamanders. Leta’s only agency in this film is to info-dump for the boys. Were we supposed to care that she died? Because my only emotion was fury at the squandering of the character.
Much like Leta, any background female characters seem to exist purely to birth or nurture babies, then die. Think Yusuf Kama’s mother and the half-elf nursemaid.
The Goldstein sisters at least have some agency in this film, but only manage to clear that very low bar. Tina remains as one-note and abrasive as ever, not letting anyone get a word in edgewise and just being angry all the time. I couldn’t stand her last movie, and I still can’t.
Queenie, in theory, has an interesting arc, a forbidden love with Jacob, and being seduced by Grindelwald’s promises. But none of this is shown to us. We get a SparkNotes version of her character arc – she hoodwinked Jacob! (Eww, by the way. That’s very icky in the context of Corvus Lestrange and Merope Gaunt.) She’s lonely in Paris! She’ll hear Grindelwald out! She’s 100% his minion now! How did we get from any of these points to the next? That’s not a character, that’s a plot device to agitate Jacob.
Did the first movie even happen?
Remember two years ago, when we watched a movie that seemed to be pretty good as a general consensus and we were excited for what that meant going forward? How the movie seemed to perfectly set up some really cool developments and interesting dynamics? Let’s run down some of the major arcs in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:
- Jacob loses his memory.
- Grindelwald is imprisoned.
- Newt is writing the book that will make him famous.
- Tina becomes slightly less unpleasant and is friendly with the rest of the core four.
- Credence appears to be dead to everyone.
- Credence, Queenie, and all the other characters are shown Grindelwald’s true colors and now have an open enmity with him.
That seems like a pretty good rundown, right? A good jumping off point for more stories? Now let’s look at that list again: How many of those changes made it past the first half hour of Crimes of Grindelwald?
Jacob’s memory is back. Grindelwald’s freedom is back. Tina’s abrasive nature is back. Common knowledge that Credence is alive is back. We hear nothing of Newt’s book. And Credence and Queenie seem only slightly wary of Grindelwald after everything that’s gone down.
Obviously, some of these things (like Grindelwald’s imprisonment) were never going to last long. But is there any reason to have started the story in the last movie, aside from actually getting to know the core four a bit before they’re all busy running around Paris? I bet if you dragged a Muggle into the movie theater off the streets, they would have as good a grasp of events in this movie as we did since FB2 seems wholly unrelated to FB1.
Writing 101: You start the story as close to the end as possible. At least, you do if you’re trying to tell a good story. If, on the other hand, you’re trying to make an extra billion dollars, then you send your characters on a quest to catch Pokémon in New York City and then press “Reset” when starting the next movie.
I’ve always thought that Jo would make as many movies as it took to tell the story, but that’s clearly not what’s happening here. If the overarching story of the Fantastic Beasts franchise is that of Albus versus Grindelwald, with Newt and Credence caught up in the middle, then we’ve just spent two movies establishing who the players are before we get to the meat of the story.
Normally, we don’t complain about extra time spent in the wizarding world, even if it’s not quite going anywhere storywise. But this gloomy monochromatic wizarding world, where everyone wears Muggle suits and seems to have no joy in their lives, isn’t really somewhere I want to hang out. In FB1, there was still a sense of fun and whimsy, coming from Jacob and Queenie and the beasts. Here, there’s nothing but doom and gloom. Lest you forget, these films are darker, which means there must be absolutely no joy in them.
So… what happened in the film?
I think we have now amply discussed that the characters in this film are a disaster. No time is provided to develop them. But is it because there’s so much story to get through?
No, that’s not it either, because there’s really not all that much happening. We follow about a dozen characters all somehow ending up in Paris, who then spend half the movie looking for each other or for records about Credence and the Lestranges. Characters run into each other constantly and just go with it, recognizing a fellow protagonist instantly and not even bothering with introductions. (Serious question: Does anyone besides Credence even know Nagini’s name by the end of the film?) We then have a Grindelwald rally, a Fiendfyre action sequence, and the movie-killing reveal at the end that just ruined everything. (For more on that, I’ve got a whole separate piece about the thematic dissonances in the franchise.)
Yeah, blasted if I know what the hell took up all that time that the film could have used to develop characters instead. But the movie just didn’t work on any level.
“Ah,” the relentlessly optimistic commenters cry, “but it’s a good movie on its own!” I will confess to being unable to judge that objectively. But judging by the absolutely excoriating reviews the film has gotten, I would argue that Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t work on that level either.
In case I was being too subtle, suffice to say I LOATHED this movie. I’ve spent a day thinking it over, and I have found nothing redemptive in it. The actors all did fine with the paper-thin material they were given, but that is not enough to save the film.
Everyone who is involved with this travesty – David Yates, David Heyman, and particularly Jo Rowling – should be absolutely ashamed of it. At this point, I don’t know and don’t care who’s to blame for it all going so wrong – their names are on it, and that’s a disgrace. We the fans – as well as anyone who actually buys a movie ticket to this – deserve better.
After I seethe some more, rant with my friends, and maybe even write yet another article illuminating everything wrong with this festering pile of Doxy droppings, I’m going to do some soul-searching. A film this bad has irrevocably changed my relationship with this franchise, and I need to think about what that relationship (and this MuggleNet column) is going to look like going forward.
I can already see the comments – “It’s a movie!” “Lighten up!” “You know it’s fiction, right?” Yes, I’m aware it’s fiction and that the world has not appreciably changed because of this movie. But I invest an awful lot of time, thought, and energy into this fictional world – a world that has meant a lot to me over the last 17 years. I assume that my fellow members of the MuggleNet community do the same. And now all of that bears reflecting upon because Crimes of Grindelwald was really that abhorrent to me.