There probably won’t be many people out there who still remember the days when I tried to write a Top 10 list every week. Yep, in the not too distant past, I struggled to come up with a coherent list of 10 things related to a specific book or film related top 10. I did it every Wednesday cause, you know, I fucking love to make things rhyme and it always stressed me out. I could never think of a topic and I could never pick 10 things. I think I threw about 6 fake dinner parties for fictional characters in the space of 4 months and the guests were pretty much the same every time. I don’t know what I was thinking. But, I’m obviously a glutton for punishment as I’ve been thinking about starting a new weekly series on a Friday. I’m already struggling because my journey home tonight took me over 3 fucking hours so I’m too tired and pissed off to be writing anything. But, I’m still really angry about this film so this has to happen somehow. I guess it can’t be that bad… and it’s not as if it’s got anything to do with dinner parties. Yet, anyway. So, without further stalling for time, I present the top 5 things I think made The Crimes of Grindelwald a bad film. These don’t include the changes to the canon that I mentioned in my post on Wednesday. Nor do they mention, though it took all of my strength not to, Jude Law’s annoying and laughable Irish moments. I get that he was paying homage to Michael Gambon but who seriously heard him speak his lines and said “yep, that’s exactly how he should say that”? It’s so distracting!
1. There is no real protagonist
Now, I know you’re all out there saying “but wait, isn’t Reddie Edmayne the main character?” No! Newt Scamander may have somehow wound up as the face of these Fantastic Beasts movies but is it his story? Absolutely not. In fact, I’d happily go so far as to say he doesn’t really have any right being there anymore. You can chuck as many troubling brotherly relationships, love interests, and muggle friends into the mix as possible but it doesn’t change anything. This series of films may have taken its name from Newt’s book but we all know where this is headed and, unless J.K. Rowling really is willing to retcon anything, it doesn’t involve Newt stopping Grindelwald himself. And even then, these aren’t really films about Dumbledore and Grindelwald themselves either. They’re in them and their relationship will come into play later but they don’t lead the story. They’re just one part of it.
The closest we get in this film to a real protagonist is Credence. After all, he’s the guy that literally everyone else in the film is chasing down. He’s the one with the most power. Credence is the Anakin Skywalker of the Fantastic Beasts world but you wouldn’t know it to watch this film. Credence has had no character development in this film. We don’t even know who he survived for God’s sake! He just turns up, looks moody, flips out, looks moody, says nothing, and turns evil. We don’t know anything about him or what kind of person he is. He’s nothing. So, it’s no wonder that when the big ‘he’s Dumbledore’s brother’ reveleation happens you don’t really give a shit about the character or the reveal.
The Harry Potter films and books work so well because you don’t see anything that Harry doesn’t experience himself. Everything comes from Harry. As there is no protagonist in this film, the audience see everything from an omniscient point of view. There’s no real mystery or emotional drive. Everything is just happening and that’s that. You don’t feel connected to the characters or the events taking place because there is no singular focus point.
2. There are too many character
Linking to my first point, this film has too many characters and too many subplots. When it boils down to it, the main story of this film is so thin. It just feels bigger because there is so much nonsense happening around it. The Crimes of Grindelwald is more padded than a contestant on Drag Race. And it has a terrible effect on the pacing of the film. It’s so slow and bloated. Every time the action gets going we’re suddenly pulled off to another plot line. We’re always moving and the main narrative gets lost. Yet nothing really important ever seems to happen. And, because there are so many people to work around, you never really give a shit about anyone. It’s all just too much.
We waste so much time introducing characters who go nowhere. You get introduced to one of Grindelwald’s henchmen early on and he disappears until the end of the film when we’re supposed to care that he’s killed. Of course we don’t care: we don’t know who the fuck he is! There’s just not enough time to give every single character the time and development that they deserve and, as such, many are wasted. Tina, who was so fantastic in the first film, is barely even there in the sequel. Queenie is completely rewritten and is given the most irritating and preposterous storyline of them all. Nagini? I don’t even know why they needed her. Even Dumbledore is barely present. There aren’t many films that can handle putting that many characters on-screen at once. Infinity War only worked as well as it did because we’d already known these characters for years. You can’t just add new people and expect us to love them.
3. The directing and editing are bad
There are so many examples of bad and tired directorial choices in this film that I don’t have the time to go over them. But David Yates’s decisions here leave a lot to be desired. The opening scene is an absolute clusterfuck that is handled so badly. The action is hard to follow and the scene doesn’t make sense. It relies too heavily on the visual effects to bring it together that everything else is forgotten about. Yates has directed the Harry Potter films since The Order of the Phoenix but it’s clear that either the magic has gone or the material he’s working with just isn’t enough. There is nothing clever or exciting about they way this movie is shot. There are so many weird and unnecessary close-ups that I genuinely thought I was watching an episode of Peep Show at times.
Yates just doesn’t add anything new to the wizarding world. There’s no real spark that brings the story to life. The film is set in Paris in the 1920s and it does nothing with it. That’s a fantastic time in history. Paris in the roaring 20s is full of so much potential but you just don’t get that sense of place. There’s no vibrancy or excitement. It all just feels very tired
4. The tone is all fucked up
The first Fantastic Beasts film was criticised by some for being too childish in its tone. It was, people thought, too silly and simplistic. I can see where they’re coming from but it wasn’t something I was necessarily bothered about. It was a fun film about magical beasts that had a slight hint of darkness simmering under the surface. It was fine. These films are supposed to be for kids anyway, right? Well, apparently not if the second film is anything to go by. Maybe it was the backlash of the first one that pushed her on but, whatever it was, nobody can accuse J.K. of being too child-friendly in the sequel. Nope, she’s embraced her inner Christopher Nolan and gone dark as shit.
And most of it just doesn’t fit into this film. We witness multiple deaths involving young children, which is fine if it’s for a point but it isn’t. The kid that Grindelwald gets his followers to kill doesn’t really prove what a bad guy he is because he doesn’t do the deed himself. It just proves he’s a man who doesn’t get his hands dirty. At least Voldemort tried to kill baby Potter. That’s what a real villain does. No, for a film concerning the “crimes” of Grindelwald, it doesn’t seem too bothered about making him seem, you know, villainous. Which is even harder to connect to the dark tone. If the tone had changed because we were truly seeing this wizarding Hitler that we’ve been promised then I’d be all for it. But we’re not. Grindelwald doesn’t do much besides talk.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. This film is full of super dark storylines that, ultimately, go nowhere. The big reveal about Leta Lestrange’s parentage? I get that J.K. likes to get political on Twitter these days but including a story about a rich white guy kidnapping and raping a black woman in a kids film? Who agreed to that decision? And it doesn’t help that the whole reveal of this secret is handled so badly. We get a clunky flashback towards the end of the film that really slows the pace before the final showdown. And then the biggest insult? It turns out it’s another red herring and doesn’t actually matter anyway! So, not only have we emotionally scarred all the young people in the audience but we’ve wasted our time on a story that literally adds nothing to the narrative. J.K. is like Howard Moon in that episode of The Mighty Boosh where he tries to pretend to be goth to impress some girls. She can claim to be as dark as she wants but it’s all just superficial.
5. Exposition Up the Wazoo
I should really have called this final point J.K. Rowling’s (lack of) screenwriting ability but I had a real urge to use the phrase “up the wazoo” for some reason. But it does raise a good point. So much of the dialogue in this film is just clunky exposition. The audience never find anything out naturally. They never have to think for themselves because there will always be a character willing to explain everything to another character in minute detail… even if that person already knows what’s going on. Take the scene in which Theseus Scamander has to remind his fiance Leta Lestrange that her brother is dead. The same brother that has haunted her since she was a child. It begs the question? What the fuck was he doing? That line was in there for no other reason than to tell the audience. It’s so awkward. No man would remind the woman he supposedly loved of the death of the baby brother that she accidentally caused.
Whatever you think of her books, J.K. Rowling really isn’t someone who understands how to write for the screen. These films are the first ones that she has written the scripts for and it’s hard to ignore the fact that they are, by far, the weakest films in the Harry Potter canon. She doesn’t know how to tell a story for an audience in this way. She’s so used to her vast description and just writing down everyone’s thoughts to explain things. She can’t do that here so she just gets people to awkwardly explain everything to the audience. If you took out all of the exposition spoken by the actors then most of the characters would be mute for the entire running time.
And whilst I’m here, let’s not skirt over the fact that most of what happens in this film is pointless. Take the opening scene for example. Grindelwald has already swapped places and is a free man so why the hell does he attack the carriage carrying the fake Grindelwald? Why does he feel the need to save Abernathy when he could just get the fuck out of there? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s stupid. It makes me wonder why Grindelwald is so feared when he does so many senseless things. The opening scene is only included to start the film off in an exciting way.
Then there’s the whole Niffler plot point that, even now, I neither like nor understand. It’s something that was obviously kept in the film to bring back a beloved creature and to create magical gold dust that can, apparently, look into the past. It infuriates me that this narrative is so full of shitty subplots and bad dialogue. Who the fuck let this woman write these screenplays?