Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald- Harry Potter’s major failure

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Riley Dudley

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the newest entry in the Harry Potter franchise

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the much-anticipated sequel in the spinoff series of the hugely popular Harry Potter saga based in 1920’s Paris. The film centers around Newt Scamander, the magical creature aficionado of the first movie, who is enlisted by Albus Dumbledore to track down Credence, a young but extremely powerful teenage boy that was thought to be dead at the end of the last movie. Along the way, he and his friends encounter Gellert Grindelwald, the first evil wizard, and several other characters and beings that viewers will remember from the original Harry Potter series. The central message of the movie seemed to center around the moral conundrum of preventing the bloodshed and violence of World War II at the expense of subjugating all Muggles (non-magical people), a Machiavellian issue that addresses the idea of ends justifying the means. If all of that sounds like a lot, then you’re not alone.  

The main character of this movie seems to be Scamander, who viewers follow through the dangers and glamour of magical 1920’s era Paris. The movie begins a few months after the events of the first movie, with Scamander being offered a job to join the hunt for Grindelwald in return for allowing Scamander to once again travel outside of Great Britain. Scamander, however, is vehemently opposed saying that he “does not take sides.” However, by the end of the movie, after he has faced off against Grindelwald several times, he realizes that he should stand against a man that is planning a mass genocide and enslavement of most of the world’s population. This reveals the central problem with the main character of this movie: he is not someone the audience can relate to or even wants to like. We go to movies like those in the Harry Potter franchise to root for heroes as they fight villains, not to watch the people we are supposed to be supporting take a neutral stance on a mass genocide. The Crimes of Grindelwald thus falls prey to the troubling trend in film of making heroes morally questionable in order to make them “relatable,” which often leads to audiences hating the very characters they are supposed to see themselves in and root for.

Newt Scamander explores the sewers of Paris about halfway through the movie

There is also the problem that the movie is so overstuffed that it is not entirely clear that Scamander is the main character. Dumbledore, Credence, Grindelwald, and even Leta Lestrange all get enough screen time and backstory that each can be argued to be the main character. This, of course, makes the movie extremely convoluted and complex to the point where it feels to overstuffed for any of them to be the main character and focus of the story. It leaves the film unanchored and convoluted, thus just confusing the viewer and everyone else in the audience.

The narrative also has way too much going on. The screenwriter, JK Rowling, is obviously a very accomplished world-builder and storyteller in the world of literature. These skills are what made the Harry Potter books so good to begin with. However, this skill does not translate well to film. Crimes of Grindelwald has way too many supporting characters, plot lines, and plot twists to keep  track of. One of the problems is that Crimes of Grindelwald is filled to the brim with unnecessary characters from the original Harry Potter series that Scamander and his friends come across that add nothing to the story. Of course, little nods to the original series would be lots of fun for dedicated fans, but characters like Nagini and Nicolas Flamel add nothing to the story and just slows the narrative down. Their inclusion in the movie is blatant pandering to the audience that just detracts from an already weak storyline.

The Crimes of Grindelwald‘s version of Nagini, a character many will recognize from the original Harry Potter series

The storyline is so chock-full of different subplots and plot twists that nearly everyone leaves the theater confused. The main plot is of Scamander searching for Credence, but the film also focuses on Albus Dumbledore’s feud with the Ministry of Magic, Credence and Nagini searching for Credence’s mother, the Muggle Jacob searching for the witch Queenie, Queenie falling for Grindelwald’s message, Grindelwald gaining power across Europe, and Leta Lestrange, who is believed to be some ancestor of the brilliantly evil Bellatrix Lestrange from the original Harry Potter series, dealing with the mistakes she made as a child and the rumor Credence might be her brother. Obviously, this is way to many stories for an average person to keep track of in a two-hour period. It is even exceedingly difficult for massive Harry Potter fans to keep everything straight. And if all of that wasn’t enough, all of those stories themselves are full of so many surprises and twists that it gets to the point where nothing that happens would even surprise the audience, if they can even still understand what was happening. Leta Lestrange’s story of Credence’s origin and the last-minute realization of who Credence’s brother is the most obvious example of this, as that plotline involves a multitude of red-herrings and centers around events as far-fetched as someone secretly switching babies with someone else just so that they didn’t have to listen to a baby cry as they fell asleep.

The Chinese “Zouwu” beast that will stun audiences during the movie

The only place that Crimes of Grindelwald truly shines is its technicality.  For all of its narrative faults, the film itself is beautiful. The namesake “Fantastic Beasts” are absolutely stunning to behold. The Chinese “Zouwu” that Scamander brief encounters is incredible, as is the underwater horse in Scamander’s zoo and Nagini’s snake form. Outside of the beasts, the visual effects of the movie also stun. As always, the magic from the world of Harry Potter entrances the audience, with moving statues, glittering blue flames, a library with the mind of its own, and a circus full of outstanding tricks and sights. All of this set against the backdrop of 1920’s Paris is a visual treat that is sure to amaze most audiences.

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In all, The Crimes of Grindelwald does not live up to expectations. The characters almost exclusively reside in a morally grey area that does not bode well with an audience looking for someone to root for. The plot is overstuffed, filled with so many plotlines and twists that it will leave audiences scratching their heads. However, if one can deal with all of that, this movie delights visually with breathtaking sets and effects. I would only recommend this movie to those that are just there for a visual treat. However, both fans of Harry Potter and casual watchers be warned: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald will disappoint, especially when compared to the magic of the original series.