The long-awaited second installment of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter prequel series is finally here! Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has officially “apparated” into theatres everywhere, grossing $62.2 million domestically in its opening weekend and “stupefying” last week’s number one, The Grinch, down to the number two spot with $38 million, and record-breaking Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, down to the number three with $15.7 million. It appears the holiday movie season is already dashing through the snow and making spirits bright!

But are audiences liking the new Fantastic Beasts film? There’s been some harsh criticism of Rowling’s ability to transfigure her storytelling onto the big screen in the past as 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them received mixed reviews even though it was (mostly) well-received by fans. The first installment acted as a promising stepping stone into Rowling’s complicated Wizarding World. Surely, the next film would take us to newer, more fanciful heights… 

Cue Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, a prequel/sequel directed by long-time Harry Potter aficionado, David Yates (director of Harry Potter 5-8 and Fantastic Beasts 1). “Potterheads” have awaited this cinematic milestone (the tenth movie in the franchise) for years, but as the moment finally came and went, and the credits began to roll, I – a self-proclaimed Potterhead and appointed Gryffindor on – couldn’t escape my feelings of disappointment. Are we just supposed to ignore the major plot holes?! There are too many details that make too little sense, and I know I am not alone in feeling this. So as Rowling begins treading the dark waters of critical fandom (alongside Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the DC Extended Universe’s Justice League), there’s still something to be said of the astonishingly imaginative universe she single-handedly created for the entire world to consume. And boy, do we ever eat it up!

In this particular escapade, the title character and main villain is a German dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald, played by the now infamous Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean). Grindelwald seeks to destroy the long-standing peace between the wizarding and non-wizarding worlds as he believes it is the birthright of pureblood wizards and witches to rule. Purebloods are, of course, “superior.” And Grindelwald’s followers see him as a hero for this: they aid him in seeking “the boy,” otherwise known as Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller, Justice League), an obscurist who surprisingly survived his catastrophic attack on New York City at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts movie. Now, Grindelwald sees Credence as his means to extinguish all “Muggles” (aka “No-Majs,” as they say in America, or as we find out in this film, “Non-Magique,” in French). The comparison to Nazi Germany is evident, but it’s presented in a way that proves how cruel and immoral these ideologies are, to begin with. Grindelwald may sound horrible in writing, but on the silver screen, his wickedness feels watered down. Other than a creepy peroxide hairdo, a hauntingly smokey eyeball, an opening scene featuring exhilarating dark magic, and a few gasp-worthy executions, Grindelwald has much to prove if he’s ever going to measure up to the ominous stylings of You-Know-Who (the Dark Lord Voldemort).

The casting of Gellert Grindelwald also posed an issue for J.K. Rowling. Fans of her beloved franchise pleaded for her to recast Grindelwald, but Johnny Depp (who was accused of assaulting his then-wife, actress Amber Heard of the upcoming Aquaman movie) had already signed his contract with Warner Bros. This prompted a slew of online petitions, and unless Depp was recast, some moviegoers even threatened to boycott the film entirely. You have to wonder if the franchise’s lowest opening weekend ever is because of these enraged fans. Many of them suggested Colin Ferrell (Dumbo) return to the franchise as Grindelwald instead. Depp was disguised as Ferrell for the entirety of the first film so this would make his integration into the sequel a relatively smooth one. Instead, Rowling stood firm in her decision to keep Depp, a bold move that hasn’t really benefitted anyone besides Depp. He’s in a number one movie again!

Onto the original four characters – Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler, TV’s The Goldbergs), and witch sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein (Katherine Waterson, Alien: Covenant, and Alison Sudol, TV’s Transparent) – who have all returned to the Wizarding World. Aside from Jacob’s comedic relief, Queenie’s shocking resolution at the end of the film, and Newts love-triangle/magical creature knowledge/interaction with Dumbledore, there isn’t much else these characters bring to the table. Tina Goldstein has some shining moments as an Auror, and all four of the originals are charismatic, but J.K. Rowling instead chooses to accommodate a slew of newly introduced characters with interwoven plotlines – most of which only exist to set up the next film.

Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz, X-Men: First Class), Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner, Assassin’s Creed), Nagini (Claudia Kim, The Dark Tower), Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law, Captain Marvel), and the very first on-screen appearance of Nicolas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowsky, The Darkness) are all among the newly appointed main characters, although none of them have much screen time, either. Besides Leta. Leta was also in the first Fantastic Beasts, but not to this extent. Her character, although stuck in yet another love-triangle subplot, finally blossoms. We get to see Leta as a young Slytherin witch in Hogwarts (played by Thea Lamb, Roxanne), too, and even though her storyline is convoluted and hard to follow (as the rest of the movie is), she leaves a lasting impression with her visual metaphors and powerful sacrifices. Still, you would think that every other main character would have some more important moments, especially Dumbledore and Nagini, two obvious fan favourites who hardly hold a wand to the rest of the characters.

Then there’s the issue of whether or not Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s romantic relationship will ever play out on screen, as J.K. Rowling has been hinting since she confirmed Dumbledore was a gay wizard. The Crimes of Grindelwald has since been accused of queer-baiting LGBTQ+ fans and there is hardly even a mention of the pair’s romance throughout the entire 2h 14m feature. There are three more Fantastic Beasts films to come, so it’s too early to judge how that element of the story will develop, if even at all.

It’s a shame because people everywhere (including myself) are invested in these stories. For over two decades we’ve spent our time and money on Harry Potter books, movies, plays, theme parks and merchandise! But unless the next three Fantastic Beasts prequels veer in a different, more understanding direction, we could see a pattern of a steady decline in ticket sales and general interest. Disney/Marvel’s MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) seems to be the only mega-canon getting it right recently with both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War exceeding expectations witch critics and ticket revenues. Even still, in this Fantastic Beasts installment alone, we are introduced to some delightfully new fantastic beasts (and reacquainted with some old favourites), return to an early 19th century Hogwarts, and visit the American, British, and French Ministries of Magic. 

So has J.K. Rowling officially bit off more than she can chew? I’ll let you be the judge, but I do think this movie is worth seeing this holiday season. It’s important to recognize that no spell is going to fix any problems we may have with The Crimes of Grindelwald, but it’s not to say it’s a bad movie. The beauty lies within the beast, and there are some alluring trinkets, exciting action sequences, interesting plot developments, and shocking surprises which are sure to leave you jaw-dropped. It may be the weakest film in the franchise, but it’s by far one of the most visually stunning films of 2018, conjuring up enchanting CGI, whimsical costume/set designs, likeable characters, talented actors, gothic cinematography, and a nostalgic musical score that will remind you why you loved the Wizarding World to begin with. One thing remains absolutely undeniable: the production value of The Crimes of Grindelwald is truly fantastic!

Hurry up November 20, 2020, we’re ready for a superior Fantastic Beasts 3!

“The fate of one will change the future for all!”

3.5 Popcorn Kernels / 5

TIP: Watch this movie in IMAX/3D! The visuals are stunning on the big screen.


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About the Author

Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.