Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is not a great movie - but it could have been with just a few changes to its script. The second movie in what is planned as five-part story has emerged as the weakest entry in the Wizard World yet: it's the first negatively reviewed Harry Potter movie and had the lowest opening weekend of the whole series. But is Fantastic Beasts 2 really as bad as all the brutal reviews suggest? Not exactly.
What Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is, really, is a great story badly told. It's character-driven tale of innate good battling deceitful evil, highlighting how easy it is for light to succumb to the dark. The problem is that it's delivered with the grim-bland direction of David Yates, forced reverence to Wizarding World lore, and, most damagingly, a script that doesn't know how to draw attention to its strengths. In fact, it feels more like a book, where extended detours into mythology are welcome flavor, not pace-killing distractions. Had this been released by written J.K. Rowling like the Harry Potter stories and then adapted by an experienced screenwriter, Fantastic Beasts 2 could have been something really special. Instead, we have a movie that's far too faithful to the novel that doesn't actually exist.
This is eerily similar to fellow lore-heavy origin tales the Star Wars prequels and The Hobbit trilogy. While there's been an ever-present backlash against George Lucas and Peter Jackson respectively, the problems with both series is less the very idea and more the execution; Lucas buried genuinely interesting ideas in corny writing and static direction, while Jackson stretched J.R.R. Tolkien's breezy children's book to breaking point. So too, now Rowling has gone so far down the Whomping Willow hole that she's lost sight of what makes this specific tale work.
The continuing adventures of Newt Scamander and his American friends, trying to protect a lost boy from the malevolent forces who want him dead, could have been brilliant. And, with just four changes to the story, we think we could have fixed it.
- This Page: Fixing Grindelwald In Fantastic Beasts 2
- Page 2: Fixing Harry Potter Lore Problems In Fantastic Beasts 2
- Page 3: Fixing Fantastic Beasts 2's Biggest Problem
Hide Grindelwald Until The Third Act
Perhaps the biggest mistake in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is to lean so much on the subtitular villain. It's clear now that Newt Scamander's adventures are a light-hearted entry into the legendary conflict between Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald, which is fine enough; Grindelwald is a very interesting character, with a history in Harry Potter films stretching back to 2001, and Newt and Credence's stories are tied directly into his power rise. However, what isn't fine is simply having Grindelwald there be deemed good enough; just like framing The Hobbit against the rise of Sauron did nothing to improve Bilbo's journey, so too does this serve as a confusing distraction. As it is, his recurring presence in the film skews the tone and removes a key element of ambiguity.
Grindelwald as long-presented was a wizard Hitler precursor to Voldemort, a power-hungry opposite to former lover Dumbledore. But that's the myth, not the man. What Fantastic Beasts 2 attempts to do is present him as a figure with more developed, well-argued ideas; as Gellert tells it in the finale, he just wants to avert the muggle-created conflict of World War II, something that compels the likes of Queenie and Credence, rejected by the strict and borderline-bigoted wizarding society of America. It's an interesting addition of period context (and one that may play into a bigger twist regarding his manipulation of Dumbledore).
The problem is that much of the impact of the smooth-talking, benevolent rallier Grindelwald presents in the third act is undercut by the movie repeatedly returning to him throughout. We see him ordering the murder of muggles (including a baby), getting his hooks into Queenie and communicating with other side characters. None of it is illuminating and only serves to keep the series' new big villain at the forefront of audiences' minds. And that's just lazy writing: despite showing Grindelwald, all Fantastic Beasts 2 is doing is telling us he's a bad guy.
Grindelwald's escape is an effective opening action setpiece, but following the title card he should be a character spoken of but unseen. This would give his motives and purpose an ambiguity the series can't otherwise achieve, allow for better focus on what the actual story is, and actually build up to his rally; as it is, so much time is spent on Grindelwald the film forgets to properly tease the final showdown or the supposed "trap" he's laid. It'd also be less Johnny Depp, which is no bad thing.
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald/Fantastic Beasts 2 (2018) release date: Nov 16, 2018