Only two questions were running through my mind as I watched J.K. Rowling’s new Potter Tale, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: “Who the hell is that?” and “What the hell is happening?” After two hours, I find myself still asking those exact questions. Truthfully, I was never on board with this new iteration of the Wizarding World franchise from the start. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them remains one of the biggest disappointments in my nerdy little life. It’s a movie that used the world I know and love, but deeply misunderstood why I fell in love with it in the first place. Out with the lovable, rich characters from Harry’s world and in with the stereotypical stock of Newt’s that populate a film with only scraps of world building on its mind. Unfortunately, if you are reading this, I can only inform you that no lessons have been learned since 2016.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is not just bad. It’s not even a cohesive film. There is no basic understanding of narrative form; no three-act structure, no character development, no sense of conflict, no tension, no focus, no protagonist, but more importantly— there’s no clear message. This is not a story; this is a collection of different ideas and Pottermore footnotes that Rowling has mashed together into something resembling a story. This is a vehicle in which she is able to retcon her way through the lore of her own beloved work through a series of contrivances and poor attempts at some spectacle. Worst of all, none of it makes any absolute sense. The “twists” that this film uses to shock you are lazy afterthoughts that make Rey parentage theories from Reddit seem like they were written by Charlie Kaufman.
I cannot stress enough just how badly Rowling’s new franchise misunderstands the appeal of its own brand. When Harry enters Diagon Alley for the first time, wide-eyed and marveling over the storefronts and pet owls, it meant something. It was an escape from his muggle upbringing with the Dursleys, a delight that made him forget, for just a moment, that the world was out to get him. The Crimes of Grindelwald prefers to shove magical scenarios into every scene under any thinly-veiled excuse as if meeting a studio quota. Newt will be chasing a gigantic creature through the streets of Paris one moment, then spend the next scene just chatting to Tina in an apartment with little to no plot relevance or scene transition. Poor pacing aside, there doesn’t seem to be any rules to casting spells anymore? No consequences? Wizards can do whatever they want with their magic sticks, whisking away any point of conflict with a flick of the wand. I’ve never felt so numb to see magic in front of my eyes.
The lack of filmmaking competence doesn’t get any less appalling as it goes on, especially when you realize how socially and politically tone deaf this film is. This is not to imply Harry Potter was ever flawless with its allegory, but the lack of consistency from there to Fantastic Beasts makes it hard to believe the same writer is behind all of it. Every woman in this film has their story bound to a man. Every person of color is disposable and exists only so the editor can cut to their reaction shots. I could ramble about how thoughtless the reveal of “Oh, Nagini is actually a Korean woman who is doomed to turn into a snake for eternity, actually” is. I could write multiple pieces about why “So, you know that character that loves muggles so much that she’s literally dating one? Well, she supports fascism now” is a terrible choice. I could write a tweet thread about how much it frustrates me that Johnny Depp has been cast in a story that helped me comprehend my own abuses. However, I somehow doubt the amount of thought I’m putting into all of this is equal to those who were behind the camera. Still, Grindelwald Trump-rallying about how he can potentially stop the Holocaust, complete with concentration camp and bombing of Hiroshima imagery? This is a new low, Joanne.
It’s a shame, really. The VFX work, production, and creature design are so lovingly put together that you can almost recognize the same universe we were lost in for our entire childhoods. I mean, here we are in Hogwarts again! We’re in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom learning how to say “Riddikulus” to defend ourselves against boggarts! Those nifflers are pretty cute! Hey, is that polyjuice potion? I remember all these things, but nothing feels right. This isn’t the same grand hall where I watched the trio become a found family. This isn’t the same clocktower I looked through with Harry as he learned to cope with his emotional trauma. This isn’t the bridge I stood on top of as he threw the Elder Wand into the lake, looking towards a brighter future. It’s all been coated with shiny, new paint. Repackaged, cynically sold to me by a studio head as bait. How the hell do they have three more of these planned?