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Fantastic Creatures (and how to set them on fire)

I don’t feel very much like going to the theatre lately but I finally managed to catch up on the Fantastic Beasts second chapter, the Crimes of Grindelwald. I thought the first movie was enjoyable enough, although the narrative was lacking and if you took away the setting you weren’t left with much. I was […]

I don’t feel very much like going to the theatre lately but I finally managed to catch up on the Fantastic Beasts second chapter, the Crimes of Grindelwald.

I thought the first movie was enjoyable enough, although the narrative was lacking and if you took away the setting you weren’t left with much. I was expecting pretty much the same thing from this: a change in setting, from New York to Paris, a chance to see more creatures extravaganzas, a thin plot that unravels in a simple way. I was wrong, and not in the good way. Beware, spoilers ahead and beware of the fact that this is not going to be a fan ranting about a supposed retcon. That’s not the point.

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Consider yourself warned.

 

Let’s start wih the plot.

Most of the first chapter was revolving around Grindelwald risking his cover in order to gain what basically is the atomic bomb: an emo kid gone nuclear because his magic was repressed as a child. I liked the dark twist presented with this situation, typical Rowling, in which both the evil forces and the supposedly good institutions are bad as shit and it’s up to the good citizen to try and fix everything. It’s morally tricky, but this is nothing new: civil disobedience was encouraged even in the earlier books. I’m not necessarily ok with it: just stating the fact.

In the second chapter, this simply wasn’t enough. We needed to have a prophecy and a blood-related thing going on, Credence couldn’t just be the atomic bomb, he needed to be the emo heir of a big shot destiny (because we haven’t seen that one before). This annoys me as hell because it really looks like a character can’t be important anymore without any higher legitimacy, just because of his deeds, while in the first Potter books this was a quite important topic. It also annoys me because this requires for Credence to be sentient and walking again and we are not given a fucking clue as to how he survived being squad shot by a bunch of American trigger-happy Aurors. It is just the way it is.

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Good. Another prophecy.

I’ll simply avoid talking about the love hexagon between Queenie, Tina, Lena, Jacob, Newt and his useless brother. The way it’s constructed is simply riddikulus and I can’t believe the first half of the movie is devoted to follow the subplot of a love quarrel. Seriously, you read on a newspaper that the guy you’re dating is going to marry his ex and… you up and leave to go and work a case in Paris? Like for real? You don’t even send a passive-aggressive angry owl? Seriously, this might have worked at Hogwards but a grown-up is supposed to be different from a sixteen years old, although it’s a concept some people might have troubles to cope with.

But that’ not what I resent to that part of the plot. What I resent is the amount of time it takes up. Let’s assume that you want to pursue the whole “who’s Credence?” idea. There are certain characters and backstory you need to develop. Particularly, Leta Lestrange. You need to show her family backstory, her childhood as the fruit of his father’s crime against the Kama family. You need to show a bit of the Kama family itself, instead of just throwing a black guy in there and hope it holds. You need to show how and why people at Hogwards believed she killed her own fucking brother and how the boggart actually makes it worst. You need to show again what an Unbreakable Vow is.

You need to talk about that stuff for more than ten rushed minutes of poorly narrated flashback, otherwise the whole plot simply doesn’t hold any power on us. Which it doesn’t. You’re simply left with a “who was that again?” feeling and I don’t have to go around reading other books or interviews with the author in order to find out details that might make me eventually love the characters in a movie. That is simply not how movies work.


 

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Nice shoes, Queenie.

And, talking about that, let’s have a chat about characters.

The first movie didn’t have particularly interesting characters: they all were kind of mono-dimensional, with no exception.We might have loved shy and socially impaired Newt, alright, but you can’t say he was a complex and multi-faced character. Nor were the Goldstein sisters, particularly Queenie. Now, Queenie Goldstein was supposed to get a little bit of development in this movie, giving how things are going: we see her mind-reading powers getting out of control and we get a glimpse of her becoming magically abusive towards poor Jacob and it bothers me that this doesn’t seem to have any importance at all. She tried the same trick the mother of Voldemort performed on his father and see how that turned out. The fact the Queenie is blonde and plays stupid doesn’t mean she gets a free pass on what she’s doing, especially if you’re trying to write her giving in to the Dark Side. It simply doesn’t work and they had a limited option of ways to play this, for instance by leveraging both her lack of idealism and her will to marry Jacob (something along the line of “I don’t care if you kill all muggles as long as I can get mine”). We don’t get anything of the sort: just a muddled switch of sides delivered in such a way we can even begin to argue if she’s bewitched. Incredibly weak.

About Leta I already talked and I don’t want to repeat myself: she should have been the central focus of character development in this movie, the way things are going, and instead we just witness her sacrifice (a Slytherin standing against a Dark Lord) without any kind of emotion at all. Extremely weak.

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It’s rare to see such a big revelation actually revealing nothing at all.

I don’t want to talk about Dubmledore either, because honestly he gets so little significant time on screen that you barely see anything but a guy minding his own businesses at Hogwards and trying to manipulate some gullible good guy to go and fight evil where he is not willing to. Classic Albus. It’s ok. And I don’t care about the inconsistency of the presence of a McGonagall in Hogwards during Leta and Newt’s attendance: I kind of feel that those details are deliberately put there for you to argue about useless stuff instead of noticing how bad the writing of this screenplay actually was. Also, I don’t mind that we get to see so little of Dumbledore and Grindelwald‘s past: their history together will probably be important for their final match and I’m hoping we’re right in assuming Dumbledore’s sister and Credence share their curse, because some things would actually make sense. But since we guessed, I’m counter-guessing Rowling will change everything into something that comes out of the blue and with no explanation. What I do mind, though, is that this movie is titled The Crimes of Grindelwald and the only crimes he seems to be committing is having bad hair (but I really can’t preach against that) and a quite voracious iguana.

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Dude, you lost one of your contact lenses.

Nicolas Flamel was a disappointment as well. His “journey” from fragile shut-in alchemist to bad ass pyromaniac, in one of the most grand scenes we’ve ever witnessed, is no journey at all. We see him, one minute talking as if he’s long retired and the other minute, after showing a crystal ball to a muggle without any explanation, he’s taking advises from a book and rushing out. Seriously. What’s the book. Who’s the woman he’s talking to. Who’s the “we” she’s talking about. Why should Flamel care. Again, if I have to Google things like “Nicolas Flamel book who’s he talking to” in order to enjoy a movie. Apparently, the screenplay explains that it’s a book collecting portraits of a sort of ante-litteram “order of the phoenix”, people fighting Grindelwald, and Nic is talking to some random gal at Ilvermorny (the American Hogwards). Seriously?

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Oh, good, seeing the future is that easy now.

Also, someone should really take some time and explain to me why should we give a fuck about Nagini. She’s pretty, alright, but if you don’t spend some time in showing – for instance – the social injustice of the wizarding world of that period, what is the freakshow scene if not a pretty scene to fill some empty space in the movie? Provided I’m ok with the fact that Credence has a body again (which I’m not, because the whole point of the first movie was that obscurials can’t control themselves), I understand the emo boy needs a sidekick but seriously some should explain to me what’s Nagini’s contribution to this story. She’s Voldemort’s loyal pet. Could’t we just leave it at that? Is this some kind of attempt to retcon the fact that you put a piece of a human soul into an animal and another piece into a dumb kid? Seriously, don’t try to fix stuff by breaking more stuff.

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Yeah, she’s pretty. So what?

 

And what about the fantastic creatures? Well, you get lots of them but, as we get more into the Grindelwald plot, they get less and less instrumental in the development of the story and the most important “fantastic creature” Newt is trying to find in this movie seems to be Tina. And in the very same way he was hunting in the first movie.

Seriously, the book comes out between the first and the second movie, so we don’t even feel obliged to follow that anymore. I guess it never occurred to him to publish a revised edition. It’s only his life research.

First of all, we get more thestrals, the beautiful winged horses of death driving the chariot which we already saw both with Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour, and Harry and Luna, although it doesn’t seem to matter anymore that “they can only be seen by those who have witnessed death”. I guess at the Ministry nobody’s a virgin anymore. And more of the bowtruckle, for all you crazy kids out there. The niffler had kids, meanwhile, although it’s not clear with whom and I’m left to wonder that his frenzy for gold might be a mating thing. You also get:

  • the weather-adviser Augurey (a scabby-looking big chicken) and the chance to mistake it for a phoenix: not that phoenixes are important in this movie… not at all;
  • the Zouwu, a Chinese dragon which actually serves the purpose to escape from a bunch of other weird creatures which Newt curiously had no mean to tame this time;
  • some eye parasites that will give you the creeps and serve no other purpose than making the “bad guy” faint in a convenient moment so that we don’t need to have a meaningful conversation with him;
  • a very powerful Kelpie, it takes up about ten minutes of movie but nope, it doesn’t serve any purpose whatsoever.
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Here kitty kitty kitty…

 

Aside from its lacking in… well, plot and character development, from a technical point of view the movie has some of the most beautiful scenes we’ve had a chance to see throughout the whole “Wizarding World” movies. Grindelwald’s Escape, aside from being a pretty cool Lego Set, is not my favorite: the opening scene of Paris’ magic district is wonderful and I already mentioned how much I loved Flamel going Pyro on Grindelwald’s blue ethanol dragon. Leta’s scene with the boggart is emotional and powerful as well, although under-used from a plot perspective, and I wouldn’t deny that Newt’s new house looks amazing (the book must have sold well). If only all these scenes were actually useful. Also, to steal a friend of mine’s words, you have to appreciate the forensic use of a niffler.

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Their gas bill must be immense.

Soundtrack is decent enough, although James Newton Howard isn’t John Williams, and I can’t complain about the acting: Johnny Depp seems to have snapped out of his Jack Sparrow curse and Jude Law is sardonic enough for me to be talking about the character, instead of his performance. Ezra Miller is still emo, Eddie Redmayne is still autistic, Katherine Waterston still delivers less emotions than a bedside table. Set design is also beautiful, from Newt’s house to the French Ministry of Magic. Costumes, though a tad inferior to the previous movie, are still a good twist from what we were used to. Objects, graphics and illustrations provide a good rich plausible setting. But, as I was saying, a movie should be a little more than this. Grindelwald’s bigger crime is not having a professional screenplay writer or a director with some guts. J.K. Rowling can sometimes be her own worst enemy.

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