Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald (2018) - Movie Review

J.K. Rowling has an interesting approach to the lore of her own stories. In the rather hefty gap between Deathly Hallows and the theatrical debut of The Cursed Child, she kept on adding little bits and pieces to the characters of one of the most beloved childhood franchises. From Dumbledore's sexuality to Hagrid’s mental health, it seemed like she needed the Fantastic Beasts films to happen, if only to provide an outlet for all the things she never found time to squeeze in before. It's like she's writing her own fanfiction.

It is that same unwavering interest in minutiae that goes some way to explain how narratively all-over-the-place this latest feature is. It follows in the footsteps of the first Fantastic Beasts in how it feels like the audience is being taken on a guided tour of the Wizarding World, with more emphasis placed on the visual splendour and newly-unleashed locales from the time before the Boy Who Lived. However, that prospect proves difficult when there is so much here that feels like thinly-layered setup for whatever film(s) come next. As much as the original Harry Potter films served as smaller pieces of the larger story, they still managed to tell their own stories well enough (mostly, considering The Half-Blood Prince was a rather aimless offering, save for the death at the end). Here, it’s all a flurry of wonky character motivations and enough talk about family bloodlines to make Tolkien jealous.

Some of it ends up providing some interesting notions, like how the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald is hinted at while not outright explained… maybe Rowling was onto something with him after all, and it creates a good foundation for what may come after. It also manages to build more on the prejudicial themes that have helped make this universe what it is in the eyes of audiences, depicting Grindelwald yet again as someone with sinister plans… but also somewhat of a justified reason for not wanting to be under the thumb of the Muggles (the film is set during 1942, the eve of one of the Muggles’ greatest wars). But again, all of this feels like pure setup for other things, not really having much of a satisfying resolution in this over-two-hour film. Hell, all the talk about lineage gets dropped on us right at the end, resulting in a head-spinning finale in the worst way possible.

And yet… I can’t bring myself to hate on this film too much. Part of that is down to the acting, with everyone here managing to give a sizeable amount of emotionality to the proceedings. Eddie Redmayne in particular warrants some credit for his own take on Newt Scamander, something admittedly simple yet it honestly warms my heart. But mostly, it’s because it still works as that guided tour of the Wizarding World. For as little that actually gets done in the grand scheme of the narrative, it’s quite a breezy sit, with franchise regular David Yates letting the audience drink in the otherworldly grandeur of the world only just hiding underneath our own.

It’s a mess, there’s no really getting around that, and it suffers a lot of the same “we must prepare for the next film” lethargy that has plagued far too many franchise films in the wake of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it is certainly an entertaining mess, and even knowing what little actually gets done in this film alone, I still find myself anticipating what comes next in spite of that. I guess, much like the characters returning to Hogwarts and reminiscing on their school days, this film is meant to give my generation a nostalgic hug, a reminder of the world we found ourselves so absorbed in.

But nostalgia can only go so far, and in an age where reliving nostalgia is easier than it has ever been before, Yates and Rowling will have to work harder if they want this to succeed. I'm willing to cut this film some slack, but only if what comes next makes this one feel like it was actually building to something.

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