This weekend, Mrs. Spew and I saw the latest in the Harry Potter universe: Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crime that is Focusing on Grindelwald. And I am not a fan. See below the spoiler break if you care
I knew I was going to be disappointed, so perhaps a bit of confirmation bias. But when the Fantastic Beasts series started, I was expecting it to be about ... fantastic beasts and the quest to find them. Silly me. The first movie, while imperfect, got a lot right. The characters were great, Eddie Redmayne is great as Newt, Dan Folger is fantastic as our point of view character, Katherine Waterson as Tina and Alison Sudol as Queenie were excellent. The beasts were fun--more nifflers is more fun!
I didn't really like the Creedence plot, but whatever. To bring such a blah character back and to just have him mope around looking for his family? Not great. We didn't need a backstory for the snake, especially one that now makes Neville a murderer of cursed people. So, that whole part of the second movie--Creedence and Nagini--was subtraction by addition.
The second movie also did heaps of damage to the canon in ways that Binge-Mode Harry Potter specifies better than I can. I am not so chuffed about wand lore. I am annoyed that there is a new Dumbledore? At least George Lucas set up the possibility of there being another Skywalker. I think that Grindelwald lied to Creedence, but if he did not, and Dumbledore has another brother that he knew about, it does massive damage to key parts of Deathly Hallows. Yes, since the movies were written by JK Rowling and she played with Snape and our expectations again and again, this might give us some pause to criticize this move. So, I will put that one on hold. Worse, I don't like the blood pact stuff. I thought the idea that Dumbledore could not stop Grindelwald due to love was perfect for the story, and now it is because of an artifact of that love? Not great.
Of course, this gets us to the big problems. This movie was doomed for two distinct reasons that overlapped: Depp and Grindelwald. We now know that Johnny Depp is an awful person, abusing the Queen of Atlantis or whatever Amber Heard is playing in Aquaman. In an era of MeToo and in a series that is fundamentally about making the right choices: "there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right," the studio picked the easy choice and kept Depp around. He was in the first movie for 30 seconds or so and was someone who could disguise himself easily. So, they should have gone with another actor. FFS.
The second problem is that I didn't really need/want Grindelwald's backstory or Dumbledore's. We got what we needed of the latter in Deathly Hallows. Just as we didn't really need the backstory of the Emperor, we didn't really need to know anything about Grindelwald. Instead, we got another big wizarding war. Again, I think it would have been more fun to have Newt run around the world chasing beasts and perhaps being thwarted occasionally by a rival, kind of like Indiana Jones and Belloq. Indeed, despite the criticism of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, I found that movie to a far more entertaining and canon-worthy prequel than FB2.
The movie did not have much in the way of great action sequences. It opens with the flying stagecoach battle, but I was already annoyed by Johnny Depp, and it was not a semi-even fight, so it lacked drama. The end battle? The blue fire was pretty and it was all very sad, but not every thrilling. Indeed, the only thrilling stuff in the movie were: Newt riding the kelpie (how did that matter for the rest of the movie?) and the stuff with the fun lion-ish beast. That part was good. Otherwise, our protagonists mostly walk around and chat about someone's identity.... Show, don't tell.
But much of the movie was boring or confusing or both. The stuff with the poem, for instance, was both boring and confusing. If you want to set up some sort of text as being key, then maybe do something like the Tale of Three Brothers. Lots of new characters who we are supposed to discriminate from each other? Only Lida really stood out (not just because Zoe Kravitz is so beautiful) but because she played a central role and had good chemistry with those around her. Newt's brother, Theseus? Mostly meh. Why did Lida pick him over Newt?
The only fun addition to the props of the Wizarding World: skull bong. Or skull hooka in the screenplay.
Oh, and Dumbledores: Richard Harris > Jude Law >> Michael Gambon. Binge-mode has affected how I see Gambon, for less whimsy and harsher than we would like, but I can't rank Law > Harris yet despite how good Law was.
Will I go to the theater to see the third movie? Probably because I am a sucker for HP stuff and I wnt to know if the stuff that was broken on the second movie gets fixed. I did, after all, go see Revenge of the Sith in the theater, so, yeah, I also tend to make the easy choice...