Why Fantastic Beasts 2 is not so Fantastic

poster for Fantastic Beasts the Crimes of Grindelwald
Who are all of these PEOPLE?

I feel like a guilty Gryffindor, A Harry Potter heel, and a bad geek, because I have such confused thoughts about Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald. I’m supposed to love it: I’m a crazy fan for everything Harry Potter. I even came around on the first Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them — which I had mixed feelings about originally . So, surely it will be the same for me on Crimes of Grindelwald, right? Right??

Truth be told, while my immediate review/reaction was less than stellar, I liked it a WHOLE lot more on my 2nd and 3rd viewings. I considered changing my review, and even bumped it up a few grades. But I still couldn’t shake the feeling there was a lot inherently wrong with CoG. It reminded me, unfortunately, of my experience viewing  Star Wars: The Last Jedi, another very pretty but deeply flawed movie. Yikes.

So I sat on it and let things digest in my brain, avoiding other people’s reviews. Until last night. That’s when I took to You Tube to see if my perspective was just dead wrong. WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Turns out: no. I mean, I’m right. The other Potterheads are just as confused and butt-hurt too. Attached are some of the best video breakdowns of why CoG failed, based on impossible inconsistencies within JK Rowling’s OWN canon, in small part — and in just weird cinematic storytelling, in large part.

large cast in fantastic beasts 2
This isn’t even everyone.

To wit: who ARE all these characters? Why should we care about the endless in-depth backstories and reveals of folks we’ve never met, some of which die right there in the same film? In Avengers: Infinity War, by comparison, it took 18 films to earn their immense casting roundup. In-Universe, The climactic Battle of Hogwarts was full of characters we knew and loved — absolutely LOVED, and died, and #YesDamnYouJK for breaking my heart there.

It doesn’t help that CoG undid the main emotional beats of the previous film in the second (also recalling The Last Jedi. #WTG).

As for the eponymous Grindelwald, we don’t get to see a lot of actual crimes. He orders the killing of one family (and their toddler child, which, yes, bad)…and, um, boots his faithful lizard to its death out the prison carriage for the ‘crime’ of being affectionate…and, hmm. Escapes from  prison, sort of, though it seems he maybe wasn’t in it…? The whole breakout scene was unclear. He bothers to save the life of one of his jailers, which I found a nice enough gesture.  He also holds a rally protesting the Holocaust. This is the most evil wizard of his generation, the Big Bad before Voldemort?

man with the eye parasite in Crimes of Grindelwald
“Tentacles”: I don’t remember his deal, either.

While Johnny Depp was never my first choice to play Grindelwald, he wasn’t awful in the part. I think the main flaws in CoG, which are legion, is that half the film was devoted to useless flashbacks and — let’s face it — underwhelming and/or incredibly contrived reveals. Who is Corvus?  (I’ll do you one better: WHY is Corvus?) What is the incredibly tangled Lestrange family tree about and why should we care? Who is Tentacle Guy  — do you remember he was in this film and what his purpose was?

Then there’s this: Credence is a Dumbledore? How does this in any way make sense? It’s like everyone is a Skywalker, all over again.

Even Queenie and Jacob, so reliable in the first Fantastic Beasts, were poorly used here. I see what Rowling was after with Queenie’s arc, but the logic doesn’t stick. You’ll see what I mean in the videos.

Where the film DID shine was three-fold: I continue to love and admire Newt, the fantastic beasts themselves were still a joyous addition to the lore, and Jude Law’s Dumbledore was note-perfect. And I love being among wizards again, especially at Hogwarts, albeit briefly. (Also, Tina’s eyes are like a salamander’s, which is a little bit true, and very cute, and if you think about Newt Scamander’s whole name, it’s essentially “Salamander Salamander”, so Awwwww.)

a cute salamander
How Newt Sees Tina

With no further opinionated grumblings from me, here are the best five reviewer videos breaking down and backing up my fretful thoughts on Fantastic Beasts 2:  (PS: start with the excellent SuperCarlin Brothers, and work your way down. All these videos will take a while to view, and I put them in order of insightfulness in my ranking scale. Your mileage may vary.)

What did you think of this second-of-five installment of Fantastic Beasts? We’ve got a comments section below: please use it.

Lastly, if you’re still reading, here are our RunPee reviews on the two films thus far:

Movie Review – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts 2 Review from a Harry Potter Novice

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

 

Every Harry Potter Film, Ranked

harry-potter-movies-ranked
The trio, saving the world at a theater near you.

We haven’t seen Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald yet, but RunPee has an early showing next Tuesday, November 13th, three days before the film officially opens. I’ll be attending in full Hogwarts robes, with my cherished Elder Wand, getting early Peetimes. In any case, this is as good a time as any to rank the 9 movies thus far in the Wizarding World, from least good to the best. Remember, though, any of J.K. [pullquote]Rowling’s wizard movies are better and more consistent than just about any franchise out there, save the superhero flicks in the Marvel Cinematic Universe[/pullquote].

NOTE: Spoilers for the entire Harry Potter series starts right here. Use a memory charm to forget what you’re about to read if you’re not up to date with the series.

My  subjective list, from worst to best, including Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them:

9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 1 – While there are some really good sections in this story (the Battle of the Seven Potters, the Gringotts Bank Heist, the flight of the dragon, the scenes at Malfoy Mansion, and the tear-jerking death of Dobby), most of the film feels like the boring sections of the Lord of the Rings: to wit, there is a lot of walking, camping, and doing nothing. Also, the locket acts a lot like the One Ring, which feels more derivative than like an homage. Also, there’s barely any humor, the tone is depressing, the characters are mostly silent, and some scenes are among the only big misfires in the entire series (ie – the wedding, the visit with Xenophilus Lovegood, the creepy trip to Godric’s Hallow).  So it’s really the only middling chapter in a long series of grade A films. Something has to come in last in a list, after all.

8. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – I don’t like this one very much. I hate the spiders scene so much that I fast forward over the whole thing (I’m not an arachnophobe, but this is all still disturbing), Hagrid’s helpful presence is missing through most of it, and I didn’t enjoy his being blamed for opening the titular Chamber. The overall tone is more depressing than it should be, so early into the longer story arc. The Basilisk doesn’t make much sense: he’s too big to roam unseen in the crowded Hogwarts Halls, or to fit through that toilet exit. Also, I’n not a big fan of the climax in the the Chamber itself, or the reveal about Ginny Weasley. The good: the flight of the Ford Anglica, the trip to Diagon Alley, Kenneth Branagh’s amusing portrayal of Professor Gilderoy, and Hagrid’s apparent bit of talking to himself as he’s brought away by the Minister of Magic (“If I was looking for something, I’d follow the spiders.”) I’ve come to appreciate this movie more over the years, but it’s still the one I’m happiest to skip. Fortunately, things get a lot better very quickly in the next films.

7.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone (the title depends on which country you’re from) – This is lightweight, yet appealing fluff. It’s very truthful to the book, which I actually like, is adorably sweet, and ends on a low-stakes high note (Gryffindor winning the House Cup, a topic we never hear about again). The film does a good job introducing a large cast, which thankfully stays with us for the next ten years (Dumbledor’s actor aside, for unfortunate reasons of real-world death).  Alan Rickman’s Snape is better than the book version, and better than a kiddie-movie like this one deserves.  Most of the stage is set for the  ensuing chronicles, and the filmation is straightforward, yet deeply pretty.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2 – I’d rate this finale higher if it was either more fun, or stood better alone. It picks up right after DH1, and maintains a  breakneck pace for its rather long runtime. The battle is competent, and everyone involved put in a good effort. The aftermath is rushed, and the coda sort of divided the fans (I liked it, though). The best scenes start right after Harry uses the Stone, sees his loved ones, walks to his death, and visits the train station at King’s Cross, London.  Heartfelt, mysterious, clearly spiritual, and nicely tear-jerking. Answers that are non-answers are provided, leaving the viewer to decide what actually happened to Harry, and how he was able to defeat Voldemort. Once you puzzle it out to your satisfaction (ie  – Harry is a horcrux), you’re all set to let the real Battle of Hogwarts begin.

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  – I sometimes dislike this film, even though it’s really quite good and mostly book. It bothers me that Harry has a raging case of PTSD about the death of Cedric, and no one tries to help him emotionally. And I’m sad about Sirius  — he was my movie boyfriend, as far as I was concerned. I so wanted Harry to ditch the Dursleys and move in with his godfather. It disturbed me that Sirius spent the short remainder of his life in that hideous house that brought him nothing but pain…and it doesn’t help that it was Harry’s awful mistake  (and no small amount of teenage hubris) that led to his godfather’s death. I blame  Dumbledore too — so much pain could have been averted if he’s handled that year better. I also didn’t like that Kreacher’s backstory was mostly ignored. I love Kreacher’s journey in the book, and feel the movie lost a big chance to add a very poignant touch. Apparently, Rowling herself had to insist on ensuring Kreacher was included at all.  High points in the film: Dolores Umbridge. She’s the kind of villain you love to hate. I hate her with the force of a thousand suns; a testament to good acting and marvelous casting. I actually think Umbridge is worse than Voldemort. All the proclamations were good fun, and the Weasley twins’ exit, while not as good as how it went down in the book, was a definite highlight, as were the charming scenes where Harry taught Protection against the Dark Arts to Dumbledore’s Army.

4. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Newt Scamander might seem an odd sort of fellow to base a five-part series around, but he’s odd in the good way; sweet, unassuming, yet very competent. He’s completely devoted to his creatures and their future survival…and in spite of being a bit socially awkward, attracts a nice trio of friends to help him save the world from evil wizards. I love Queenie and Jacob. I love the workshop and wildlife preserve in the suitcase. Newt’s an adult, unlike Potter and friends, and this makes for a tonal shift in the film. It’s less colorful and, well…”magical” — except when the fantastic beasts themselves come around. This is a film I like better and better upon every viewing. I’m truly excited to see how this series develops.

3.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Many people position this as the best of the series. It’s shot on location in the lush highlands of Scotland (places I visited to see the real deal in person, being a supergeek of all things Potter). Azkaban has a complicated, yet completely coherent story that other time travel movies should study. The direction is winningly stylish. We’re also introduced to Hogwart’s best teacher ever in Remus Lupin. This is where Sirius Black emerged, and began stealing my heart.  Our new Dumbledore was nothing like the previous one, but slid seamlessly into the role. The main trio puts in their first real acting performance — either the young actors finally settled into their characters, or the director led them there. Alfonso Cuaron completely knocks this one out of the park, and I wish he’d stuck around for the rest of the franchise. It’s simply glorious in direction, setting, and tone.

2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – I’m a sucker for quest-type stories like this one. It’s got recognizable act breaks between the three tasks, introduces great new characters, provides a lot of humor, and is the first film where the kids enter fully into teenhood. The Hogwarts characters we know and love are no longer children, and the pains/pangs of love emerge. I love this movie more than it probably deserves, but it also offers an astounding ending that changes the series forever. Here’s where the darkness finally takes firm root over the rest of the saga.

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – this holds a special place in my heart for being the funniest of the films, with a good mystery, a lot of Draco (always a plus), reveals much-needed backstory, is mostly self-contained, and provides the last calm before the storm of the war against Voldemort. Everyone’s on the top of their game in this one. (Yes, the book is far superior, but it’s also super long. This would have been a better choice to divide into two films, IMO).

If you’re a die-hard Potter fan, you’ll notice I didn’t include Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in this ranking. This would be because the last time I was in London, the play had not yet been created. The screenplay in book-format is a bit underwhelming, but I’ll chalk that up to the medium: it’s meant to be performed to a live audience. People who’ve seen it have great reviews on the experience.  Next time I hit the UK, you can bet I’ll catch a performance. If you’ve seen it, please talk about what it was like in the comments below.

Next week, with FB 2 gracing our screen, I’ll have to shake up this list again.  The trailers look good, albeit quite grim. Here’s to hoping it lands in the top five! I’ll be at the premier in my Gryffindor robes. Lumos, babies!

Related, on RunPee:

Every Harry Potter article on RunPee.com

And some featured posts: 

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Crimes of Grindelwald Prequel Fan Film – The Greater Good

Comic Con Releases Grim but Exciting Trailer for Fantastic Beasts — The Crimes of Grindelwald

Notes on Final Trailer for Fantastic Beasts — The Crimes of Grindelwald

 

 

Crimes of Grindelwald Prequel Fan Film – The Greater Good

Wizards Albus Dumbledore and Gellart Grindelwald start their famous duel. Doesn’t young Albus look like the  young Professor X from the X-Men films?

Have you seen The Greater Good, a  17-minute fan film about Dumbledore and Grindelwald? Made before the first Fantastic Beasts movie was even a thing, this little wonder tells the story of how the two powerful  wizards broke off their previously intense, long-running relationship. It also features Albus Dumbledore’s little sister, Ariana, and the sad events at the end of the boys’ world-traveling love affair. Aberforth, the other Dumbledore brother,  also plays a leading role.

The feature’s not bad. I’d even say it was really good, if the wand fight didn’t drag on so long.[pullquote] I’d also have liked to see some more scripted moments between the characters, and some backstory before the duel gets going. But it’s got decent filmatic qualities for a fan piece[/pullquote], a nice (and inexpensive) beach-side setting, good costumes, and acting that works for the story being told. A few of the special effects are cringe-worthy, but we should probably cut these amateur filmmakers some slack.

Albus, Aberforth, and Gellert look great. Ariana is way too old to fit in with the Harry Potter novelizations and her painting in the Deathly Hallows 2 movie, but I guess we can overlook this in honor of the greater good. 😉

Some people are going so far as to call this a Fantastic Beasts prequel. Take a look:

What do you think of this fan film short from the universe of Harry Potter? I for one am impressed that JK Rowling is confident enough in her creation to allow this one-off to stay alive for internet viewing.