The second installment of the “Fantastic Beasts” series set in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World featuring the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander. (from IMDB)
I posted this intro on my review for the first Fantastic Beasts film, and I feel the need to share it again. I must admit I’ve never seen a single Harry Potter film or read any of the books. In full disclosure, I had decided to avoid them due to feeling uncomfortable with the idea of making witchcraft appealing and normal to young children. And when I had seen a Harry Potter witchcraft kit on sale at a local Border’s Bookstore during the rise of the Potter phenomenon, I decided to steer clear of it. And, honestly, to this day, I don’t really care to change that. However, I realize deciding to watch the Fantastic Beasts series may seem puzzling if not entirely hypocritical. The deciding factor for me was that the story seemed less focused on witchcraft and teaching it to kids in a school, and more about the unique creatures within their world. And, upon viewing the first film, I’ve found that to be mostly true, with some of the history of the wand-wielders in the Wizarding World playing a big part of this story.
But Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald does change all of that. This second installment serves as more of an effort to bridge Fantastic Beasts and the Harry Potter series, almost exactly the way The Hobbit films did for Lord of the Rings (and even Star Wars has fallen prey to). It’s not really the best way to chart a new course either. But what I didn’t know going in to see The Crimes of Grindelwald is that, not only were more films already being planned in the Fantastic Beasts series, but a total of FIVE of them! This makes The Crimes of Grindelwald seem somewhat superfluous. It’s hardly the “Empire Strikes Back” of this series. If anything, Fantastic Beasts is shaping up to have all of the same shortcomings and weaknesses that the drawn-out and over-stuffed Hobbit prequels had. And considering the fact that both franchises are from the same studio, you would think someone would have learned something somewhere about this issue.
I usually like to watch film series with a knowledgeable grasp on the franchise. It’s interesting to be viewing these films having little-to-no familiarity with the Wizarding World beyond the 2016 Fantastic Beasts film. But because I’m unfamiliar with this world, I’m learning it’s difficult to just dive into this new series blindly. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was a decent gateway into the Wizarding World, introducing new things to the series. But with The Crimes of Grindelwald setting out to lay the groundwork for three more movies that will assumingly connect with the Potter series, we’re presented with a film whose story meanders from one thought and plot beat to another, skipping here and there. At times, I found myself wondering “Seriously, what is the significance of this completely random moment? (or flashback?),” only to find how it comes into play a little later. Granted, there’s a good chance they’re setting up connections for down the road in future films, but it’s a little frustrating to be a moviegoer who just wants to enjoy the movie they’re currently viewing. It’s definitely not like a Marvel Cinematic Universe film where the movies stand pretty well on their own while pushing a greater overarching story along.
The characters are what made Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them so endearing, and, sadly, The Crimes of Grindelwald reuintes them only to ramp up the tension and smash them up, while introducing less interesting or endearing characters and giving more screen time to them. Eddie Redmayne’s quirky delivery of Newt continues to be my favorite part about this series and even he takes a backseat to the events of this film. Furthermore, while Ezra Miller’s Credence character was being created as a dark pawn to play a part in a bigger scenario, he seemed to be removed from the board by the end of the first film. Suddenly, as if as an afterthought, he’s back and almost as boring to behold as the first time around (at least his horrible haircut is gone — even Miller wasn’t quiet about how bad that haircut was!). With such a relentless focus on his character’s importance, I just wish I could care more about his character, but there’s just not much there to cling to. Johnny Depp, as Grindelwald, is really the only great addition to the cast (he had a little cameo at the end of the first movie). He’s delightfully sinister and menacing in this film, but his intentions and goals feel unclear, and it makes me wonder if I’m supposed to know where things go in the Potter films to full understand what Grindelwald is doing (or trying to do). And certain plot elements just don’t seem to make much sense. Grindelwald is constantly trying to find and manipulate Credence, and then, at one point, he’s in his presence, but does nothing more but hand him a breadcrumb to follow. Then, later in the film, some strange secret meeting is held and everyone in the movie somehow ends up in the same room (even seemingly accidentally), feeling all too convenient while also making me wonder if I’d missed something. The film’s final moments leave things open-ended and unresolved, while teasing things that really only Potter-heads will know, clinching my feeling that this new franchise really is just crafted for the Potter fans. (Y’know how comic book movies often tease characters and events that only diehard readers of comic books would know? It feels like that.)
While my original reservations about the Potter films packaging witchcraft up for kids still holds true for me, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald does touch on the Hogwarts school elements some, bringing the plot to the school for a few scenes (with potential for more in the future). These stories are staying centered around the adults and in a very fantastical way, but it felt like there’s a more conscious effort to work in those Potter elements this time around. It was nice to see characters like Newt, Jacob, Tina and Queenie again, but with the way things progress throughout the course of this film, it’s more disappointing than making me eager for the next chapter.
The content of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is on par with the first film, albeit darker. Language is kept to only 2 uses of “h*ll” from Jacob, while the only real sexual content is the occasional low-cut top on a female character and maybe some cleavage. There does seem to be some hinting that Grindelwald and Dumbledore may have had a thing for each other when they were younger. When described as being like brothers, Dumbledore corrects them by saying “more than brothers,” and some of the way we see them interact in the past–including the blood pact–teeters on romantic. (And this creates another problem for the film — what’s the big deal between these two guys? Why can’t Dumbledore fight Grindelwald exactly? Why were they so close? Is this something touched on in the Potter movies? Did Rowling say at one point Dumbledore is gay? So does this mean this hero and villain had some kind of love affair?) The rest of the content is violence, with a short flashback shot of two characters cutting their palms in order to make a blood pact, and we see some scrapes and such on other characters. We also see a lot of characters get burned up or turned to dust from the impact of wands or blue flame. One scene shows a little tentacle brush along a man’s eye and later we see it being yanked out (but not in full detail) and we see it’s a multi-tentacled parasite that had been plaguing a man with poison. There are also two scenes that focus on the death of little children. One involves Grindelwald casting a spell that instantly kills a married couple, and when he finds a toddler sitting in a room calling for his parents, the villain smiles at the boy, orders his associate to kill the boy and leaves the room. We don’t see the death, but we see a flash of light come from the room that represents the murdering of the child. Later, we hear about a child being swapped with another while infants, and then drowning in a boating accident. We see an infant wrapped in clothes (with the hand visible) as it sinks underwater out of reach of its mother. Both moments are rather disturbing. Overall, the nature of this film is much, much darker than the first one, and not necessarily in a good or exciting way, either.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was a fun and mostly enjoyable period fantasy film, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t quite live up to chapter before it. Plagued with being a bridge film instead of a natural continuation, and marred by a dark tone and meandering plot, The Crimes of Grindelwald may be a better film when considered in the context of the rest of the franchise, but by itself, it’s only a decent-but-flawed fantasy film that probably only Potter purists will truly enjoy.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/28/18)
4K UHD / Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Along with the feature film in 4K UHD, the 2D Blu-Ray disc and digital copy of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald are the following Extras:
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald in 4K – The film looks fantastic (no pun intended) in 4K, and definitely stands out as one of the better entries into this home viewing format. It’s a very effects-driven movie, so there are moments where the high resolution tends to separate the real, practical film elements from the digital creatures or scenes, but it’s forgivable given the detail this format gives the eye. If you have 4K capabilities, I’d recommend this title.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – Extended Cut (2:21:23) – The much-hyped “Extended Cut” (they even added it to the title card of the actual film) is only seven minutes longer and includes most of the deleted scenes from the deleted scenes section of the Extras. As the Extended version starts, you see a brief montage of snippets from the aforementioned deleted scenes with the voice of the director introducing this cut. As the film plays, when it comes upon the deleted scenes that have been added back into the film, it’s literally labeled in the lower left corner “Deleted Scene” (which seems like a really odd choice. I’ve never seen another extended version of a film do this). I don’t think the scenes added to the movie do much–although my favorite is when Newt is wrangling the Nifflers into his case to leave his home–but I suppose it’d be fine for diehard fans to watch. It’s also worth noting that the Extended Cut is ONLY included with the digital copy of the film. It is NOT on any disc release. But if you purchase a disc that mentions the Extended Cut on its cover, it will come with a code to redeem the digital copy of the film that will include both versions.
J.K. Rowling: A World Revealed (10:11) – Rowling talks about writing the prequels, expanding the world and trying to be inclusive at a time when people are “being so marginalized.” She teases a bit about where story might be headed next, too…
Wizards on Screen, Fans in Real Life (19:15) – Ezra Miller, who plays Credence, and Evanna Lynch, who plays Luna in the Potter films, talk about their own individual fandom of the Potter franchise. They then watch scenes from the Fantastic Beasts sequel together and comment on stuff as they see it. They comment on how the “blood covenant” necklace is basically like a friendship bracelet, and at one point, Ezra reads aloud a segment from one of the books. (4 “Oh my G-d,” 2 “d*mn”)
Distinctly Dumbledore (9:29) – J.K. reflects on casting Jude Law as the younger version of this character, and talks about the sexual relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, which she feels is there. (Yikes…)
Unlocking Scene Secrets (48:36) is broken up into 6 sections but also has a Play All option. It opens with a focus on returning to Hogwarts, and rebuilding iconic sets from scratch. It then takes us to Newt’s home and highlights the various new creatures there, as well as his briefcase. Next we have a featurette about Credence and his mission of self-discovery in this story. We also learn about the snake-woman Nagini–who is a snake in the Potter films–and how she’s destined to be stuck in that form forever. This section concludes with a focus on the fantastical circus set piece and the characters within it. “Paris and Place Cachee” is about recreating Paris of the 1920’s and how they built the shops and streets all from scratch. They then highlight the various props and artistic design, and then reveal the details of the “hidden square.” “Le Ministere de Affaires Magiques” is the French Ministry of Magic, and in this segment, they talk about the various props and built sets used for the film. (And J.K. reveals that it’s her favorite set from all of the Potter franchise!) Finally, the last piece highlights Grindelwald’s escape in the opening scene, and the “ring of fire” meeting in the film’s climax. Johnny Depp talks about trying to find the best way to approach the character and how to deliver the lines. We’re treated to alternate takes that he tries, which is a neat insight into how the character was developed. We then see some of the filming of the carriage chase.
Deleted Scenes (14:27) – There are 10 deleted scenes. The first two have unfinished effects and appear to be exclusive to the deleted scenes section. The first, “Credence Reborn” (1:58) is an alternate beginning to the film that shows how he reforms. It’s quite dramatic. “At the Docks” (1:04) is a short scene that seems to imply that Credence stows away on a cargo ship. The rest of the scenes are also included in the “Extended Cut” of the film. “Walk N Talk” (0:47) is a bit where Newt and Dumbledore talking about Credence while walking the dark London streets. “Ballroom Dance” (2:29) is a kind of creepy dance scene where Leta and Newt’s brother watch a dancer perform. Leta hears voices whispering to her about how her brother is alive. “Tina and Skender” (0:29) is just a short moment of Tina arriving at the circus. “Newt’s Basement” (2:18) is an extended version of what’s in the film and shows him packing up the Nifflers. “Murmuration” (2:40) is a quiet scene with Credence and Nagini on a rooftop. Credence makes a black cloud flow out of his hand and it swirls around and through her. “Newt and Jacob Walk to Kama’s” (1:21) shows the pair walking through a restaurant and through the streets. “Nagini and Credence in Alley” (0:50) shows the two sitting and sharing bread together. He notices scales are forming on her wrist, which is worrying her, so he kisses it. Finally, “Dumbledore and McGonagall” (0:30) is a rather brief moment where McGonagall finds him walking the halls of Hogwarts and asks him what’s going on.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/11/19)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: We see some cleavage in the dresses that Leta and Nagini wear throughout the film; It’s hinted at that Dumbledore and Grindelwald may have had a relationship that was more than just a friendship. Aside from an odd blood pact the two make by slicing their hands and joining then, it isn’t defined; We see an old Roman-style statue that isn’t very detailed, but shows a woman with one breast hanging out of a toga-like dress. The statue moves and we see it a few times.
Vulgarity/Language: 2 “h*ll”
Alcohol/Drugs: Maybe some casual drinks, nothing focused on.
Blood/Gore: A man has some bloody scrapes on the side of his face; A woman who helps Newt care for his beasts has bandages around a bloodied finger; We see two young men slice their palms, drawing blood, to make a blood pact. We then see a drop of each of their blood swirling around each other and forming a medallion. We later see the blood spots dancing around inside of it many times.
Violence: The opening scene is pretty intense when Grindelwald is transported from prison and ends up taking over the carriage. At one point, we see a face morph into another person’s face, which some may find disturbing. Some characters are thrown out at a great height to their death; In a flashback, we see two young men slice their hands to make a blood pact; We also see a lot of characters get burned up or turned to dust from the impact of wands or blue flame; One scene shows a little tentacle brush along a man’s eye and later we see it being yanked out (but not in full detail) and we see it’s a multi-tentacled parasite that had been plaguing a man with poison; There are also two scenes that focus on the death of little children. One involves Grindelwald casting a spell that instantly kills a married couple, and when he finds a toddler sitting in a room calling for his parents, the villain orders his associate to kill the boy and leaves the room. We don’t see the death, but we see a flash of light come from the room that represents the murdering of the child. Later, we hear about a child being swapped with another while infants, and then drowning in a boating accident. We see an infant wrapped in clothes (with the hand visible) as it sinks underwater out of reach of its mother. Both moments are rather disturbing; Some beasts attack some people, but none of it is lethal; and other fantasy violence.