28 November 2018

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts The Crimes of Grindelwald

I do not own any of these images. Via IMDB.com

Fantastic Beasts : The Crimes of Grindelwald
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz
Directed by David Yates

Official Synopsis:
In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world.

  • Spoiler-free summary 

Currently on a travel ban after the events in New York, Newt is asked by both Dumbledore and the Ministry for Magic to track down Credence Barebone, who survived the MACUSA's attack 6 months prior. It is suspected that Grindelwald is also after him because he believes Credence is the only being strong enough to defeat the Great Albus Dumbledore (Dumbledore being the only person capable of deafeating Grindelwald). Newt initially refuses, but changes his mind after a surprise visit by a loved-up Jacob & Queenie who reveal that Tina is also searching for Credence in Paris. Credence is hiding amongst a Wizard Circus in Paris where he befriends Nagini- he is on a quest to discover his true identity. On top of this, Credence is rumoured to be the lost child of a pureblood Family (foretold in a prophecy), which introduces Leta Lestrange to the plot, who happens to be Newt's brother Theseus' fiance. Whilst waiting for Credence to join him, Grindelwald is busy growing his following and fear-mongering fellow wizards into joining his cause. Dumbledore repeatedly tells Newt and the Ministry that the can not move against Grindelwald - the reason for this is revealed at the end of the film and sets up the third installment.

Phew. Needless to say there are so many, too many, little threads and layers in this film. Too many characters and subplots, too little time. Crimes of Grindelwald attempts to grow the spin-off franchise by introducing new characters who sadly end up contributing nothing to the plot at hand. That being said, they will no doubt contribute in the future installments, but until then it feels unnecessary to have so many people on screen when ultimately they just end up being background figures (such as Leta, Nagini, Nadylam - we learn nothing about them and they have no arc). The introduction of new characters is detrimental to the existing friendships within the film, specifically with Newt and Tina: with so few dialogue-centric scenes of them together, it's difficult to be entirely emotionally invested in their will-they-won't-they romantic story arc. Familiar faces disappear off-screen only to appear at major plot-points. This is a result of a lack of dialogue, and because of all the various happenings, there seems to be a general lack of direction and continuity. Too often we wonder how/why/when the characters ended up in this scene. Too many mysteries, some are unraveled and provide a framework to the larger story, but more often than not these mysteries become frustrating and futile. 

"...it's overstuffed with characters and plot threads that lay the foundation for later sequels, but are largely superfluous to the story at hand. The issue is compounded here by the addition of key players from the Harry Potter saga - some of whom, admittedly, are essential to the overarching Fantastic Beasts narrative, with Albus Dumbledore being the main example. Others, however, simply detract from the movie's more important threads with their presence and/or are given needlessly overcomplicated backstories (or, in the already-infamous case of Claudia Kim's Nagini, an inherently problematic one). In the end, it's difficult to become emotionally invested in anything that happens in The Crimes of Grindelwald because nearly every scene is devoted to table-setting, not character or thematic development." - Screenrant

Very minor spoilers below.
  •  Hogwarts and Dumbledore
Seeing Hogwarts and Dumbledore (and another familiar teacher) was without a doubt a highlight and strength of the film, bringing a sense of familiarity and nostalgia to the audience. Despite the familiar spells throughout the film, it was seeing the iconic Hogwarts landscape that made our hearts swell, reminding us why we fell in love with this world in the first place. Jude Law makes his debut as a young and engaging Albus Dumbledore, minus the flamboyant suits (we can only hope to see this in future installments). 
The film offered a few scenes with the mirror of Erised which depict his past relationship with Grindelwald: I think we can appreciate how they approached this. They didn't give us a huge amount of information, just enough to keep us on our toes and wonder how and why Albus and Grindelwald went in such different directions. Those moments play a key part in the film and set up the plot to the third installment.
The reason Hogwarts may have been the most exciting location in the film may be down to the fact that the French Ministry wasn't established enough, therefore not very memorable: the set design was beautiful as always, but we were offered very little in terms of customs, and what sets it apart from the British or American Minstry for Magic.

  •  Grindelwald, a new villain
In The Crimes of Grindelwald we follow Grindelwald through Paris where he attempts to grow his following and convince Credence Barebone to join his cause.

The film kicks off with Grindelwald's escape from MACUSA as they attempt to move him from New York to Europe. This action-heavy escape was visually impressive in parts, however the colour grading was extremely dark which made the sequence difficult to follow.

The gathering and speech in the final act of the film delivered a much-needed punch to the story: Grindelwald relies on fear-mongering to increase his influence, like a true villain. He shows images  of Humanity's dark and bleak future (powerful images of World War II and the atomic bomb) to the assembled crowd at the cemetery to convince his fellow wizards that they must come together to avoid the passing of these catastrophic events. We see the impact these shocking images have on those gathered: it was one of the few convincing moments of the film. The fear on Jacob's face as he says 'not another war' says it all.

This scene was the most dialogue heavy scene of the film and set the board for the rest of the franchise. However, Johnny Depp's portrayal of Grindelwald (problematic to begin with) failed to establish him as a new, iconic villain.

  • Balancing visuals and dialogue: less is more with CGI 
The visuals in the film are undoubtedly impressive, whether it be new fantastic beasts or a sea of blue flames. However there is simply too much of it. By having so many large scale CGI events in the film, they end up having less of an impact on the audience: take the large black fabrics covering the sky in Paris as Grindelwald calls his followers, or the final huge dragon-like beast in the graveyard sequence at the end of the film. These visual events have little effect on the audience simply because there is just too much of it- we had been presented with magnificent effects through-out, it wasn't gripping because we have grown used to it. Less is more

There is also a lack of dialogue through-out the story. The sheer amount of characters and different subplots in the film make it difficult to establish any well rounded plot and character arcs- we're constantly being pulled around in different directions and too much is revealed too fast, giving us no reason to invest in the story. I'm sure that this would have worked brilliantly in a book format but unfortunately it doesn't work for a screenplay, which is the root of the problem.

This lack of dialogue is extremely frustrating as the film ends up being a patchwork of pretty cinematography and visuals, without any communication thus no straightforward start-to-finish plot. We learn little to nothing about these new characters. We don't know what their personalities are like, their interests, their behavior, beliefs- Theseus, Leta and Nagini didn't reach their full potentials which is really disappointing (especially for a big fan of Zoe Kravitz).  

There also seemed to be a lack of  'connecting-scenes' through-out- we seemed to jump between sets, when we really needed more of those in-between moments throughout the entire film. That is what made the Harry Potter films so good: we saw so many everyday moments- breakfast in the great hall, quidditch, potions class- moments which aren't always connected to the main plot but which ultimately give the audience more of an insight into the characters' personalities and the world they live in. Those scenes also allow the audience to catch their breath and simply lose themselves in the magic. 

Crimes of Grindelwald would have benefited from a more relaxed approach to story-telling: less special-effects, much more in-depth dialogue, more 'in-between' moments, and less over-stuffing of action and details. 

  • Final thoughts

The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second installment of the Fantastic Beasts series set in J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World, featuring the adventures of Newt Scamander. This sequel delivers small, familiar bursts of wonder and awe, but ultimately lacks a magical spark. The strongest elements of the film boil down to the familiar aspects of the magical world, such as Hogwarts and the introduction of a younger Albus Dumbledore. Its other redeeming feature is Newt Scamander, the selfless and empathetic magizoologist whose love of all magical creatures brings a bit of heart and warmth into the film. James Newton Howard enchants with a beautiful, magical score and the costumes by the one and only Colleen Atwood do not disappoint (although it would be great to see Dumbledore in a more book-inspired ensemble). The film ends on a huge revelation which I'm still trying to wrap my head around, I'm not entirely sure I'm happy - or conviced by it. Other choices made by some characters in the film felt more convincing, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

What are your thoughts on the film? Beware of potential spoilers in the comments!

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