Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Filmmaking
Over Thanksgiving break, I finally saw the highly anticipated Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald with my dad and some family friends. It was a last-minute decision, but overall they seemed to enjoy the movie and make the most of the night.
I, however, walked out heated and angry.
Rather than telling the story of the thrilling global adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) like its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald follows a chase after powerful magical fugitive Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who is searching for answers on his identity.
Credence is pursued by several bodies of the Ministry of Magic: Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and Auror Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), the nefarious Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), and a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), who sends Newt to retrieve the young man who takes Redmayne’s movie – and at this point, his franchise – away from him. Even the plot summary of The Crimes of Grindelwald takes the focus away from Newt Scamander, stating that “Albus Dumbledore enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead.”
Despite the introduction of Gellert Grindelwald within the final 15 minutes of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, The Crimes of Grindelwald drastically shifts what its predecessor established, and turns the Harry Potter franchise from one previously seen as untouchable and a fixture in the childhoods of my generation into a “Wizarding World” that is cursed with the same issues as nearly every other studio attempting to build their own shared cinematic universe.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald shows the largest, most damning faults of the filmmaking business. It is plagued by heavy studio involvement due to the arrogant, pigheaded beliefs and mindsets of Warner Bros. and Harry Potter veterans J.K. Rowling, David Heyman, Steve Kloves, and David Yates. It shows how little they regard the public’s opinion, their inflated refusal to decide when they’re done, and their overall lack of respect for their consumers, revealing Warner Bros.’ startling willingness to experiment on a franchise held so deeply in the hearts and experiences of their audience.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is a mixed bag of potentially compelling and interesting ideas, but the film is weighed down with copious exposition and too many completely unnecessary Easter eggs. The movie has made passing references to Professor McGonagall that implied she was a professor at Hogwarts before she was born, thus causing a huge, absurd plot hole; Nicolas Flamel and the sorcerer’s stone, with the former being more significant to the plot than he actually needed to be and the latter serving more as a cheap gaudy gemstone; Nagini, Voldemort’s future snake companion, who ended up doing absolutely nothing and bringing Asian representation down a peg or two; and many more that drew down a confusing line of being necessary to the plot and half-hearted attempts to show how the Wizarding World was all connected. It is not afraid to show off Hogwarts and to bring that audience back into that familiar nostalgia, manipulating the feelings of the audience and hoping that by doing so they hide the rest of the movie’s problems.
The plights of The Crimes of Grindelwald have brought on many comparisons as “our generation’s Star Wars.” If we follow this accurate comparison to the Star Wars prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III), J.K. Rowling is George Lucas, a creator who doesn’t want to let go of her baby and thus refusing to hear out newer, fresh perspectives – or worse, attempting to and displaying a fake sense of social awareness. This movie is Attack of the Clones, panned and making audiences yearn for the franchise to be over despite The Crimes of Grindelwald being the second out of five films. Villain Gellert Grindelwald is slightly representative of character Jar Jar Binks; while this franchise won’t destroy Johnny Depp’s career like Star Wars with Ahmed Best, Grindelwald still stands out as damning to the franchise due to Depp’s domestic violence allegations.
However, it is through the ending of this movie that The Crimes of Grindelwald makes its most cardinal mistake.
A movie should never, EVER expect a sequel under any circumstances.
Even if it’s part of the intergalactic, titanic Star Wars franchise. Even if it’s part of the ever-growing, unstoppable Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even if it’s part of the magical, universally beloved Harry Potter franchise. To achieve the shared universe model that a franchise is trying to build, every entry should feel like a building block: it can build to something more (it doesn’t need to), but it should be able to stand on its own. If studios want to build something higher and more complex with their franchise, they need to be more patient and understanding. Stacking blocks on top of each other recklessly will only cause the tower they’ve built to eventually fall, no matter how much they want to deny it or storm through their current path.
This is why no studio has been able to “catch up to Marvel” and replicate its success: they aren’t patient. Even Marvel suffered from this fate as well through Iron Man 2, constructing storylines about S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers Initiative that drew away from Tony Stark’s story. Studios are too eager to build something more, and forget about the core essential foundations to a movie: a complete script, a compelling story, and a clear focus and vision for where they want their franchise to go.
Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling draw their attention away from these foundations. They expect too much from themselves and lay too much groundwork for the future, and the end result feels wholly incomplete: there are too many unfinished and unnecessary subplots, huge gaps in the overall narrative, an incomplete and uneducated script, and paper-thin, barely-glued together characters that make up 80% of this film’s protagonists. Maybe they’re supposed to build to something grand, but if the movie is just plain awful, no one is going to care.
What haunted me the most was that blatant manipulation of my own nostalgia. I still had fun with this movie, but I realized that I had fun because I love Harry Potter so much. I cherish the memories of seeing Deathly Hallows – Part 2 in Manila with my cousins, I get excited for the annual Harry Potter party I go to every year, I take pride in my houses – Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.
When I realized that this fake, manufactured recollection of my memories was where my enjoyment of the film stemmed from, rather than this mess of a movie, I felt like I was being looked down on by Warner Bros., that my thoughts were regarded as irrelevant and pointless.