In November 2016, Potterheads all over the world, including myself, rejoiced at the premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Following the adventures of Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne), a quirky but charismatic Hufflepuff with a deep love for magical creatures, the movie was described by Warner Bros. as “an all-new adventure returning us to the wizarding world.” It was directed by David Heyman, who also directed the last four Harry Potter movies, while the script was written by J.K. Rowling herself, the author of the beloved book series.
The movie scored a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.3/10 on IMDb. It received mostly positive reviews, and critics and fans alike agreed that it was a promising beginning for the prequel series. Everybody anticipated the release of its sequel announced for November 2018.
Nobody anticipated its painful fall.
The majority of the reviews for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald were negative, to put it lightly. It scored a 36% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, becoming the lowest-rated Harry Potter movie in the entire franchise. It didn’t receive much mercy from IMDb either, where it received 6.6/10. Many fans immediately expressed sheer disappointment while the critics pointed out a myriad of problems, especially regarding the writing. There was also a group of fans who experienced phantom menacing (i. e. being in complete denial that the movie you were looking forward to is terrible for an extended period), including myself.
Almost two years since its premiere, and after rewatching it on Netflix and HBO GO, I came to realize that ‘disappointing’ isn’t enough to describe Fantastic Beasts 2. How could something so promising become so disheartening so fast? The series started on the right foot, how could it stumble so quickly and dramatically into a massive pile of trash? What really went wrong? To answer these questions, we have to look at what made the first movie great. SPOILERS AHEAD!!
The Beloved Wizarding World, New Setting
There was one key trait that made Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them an amazing new journey in the wizarding world we came to love: flexibility. It took place within the Harry Potter universe but at a different time and location. While Harry’s story spanned between 1991 and 1998 in Britain, Newt’s adventure opens in 1926 during his arrival in New York City. Newt had no connection to Harry, other than the fact that he was the author of a textbook that the young wizard was obligated to read for school. The only Harry Potter character Newt had any relationship with was Dumbledore, which was addressed only once in one simple sentence. This allowed the prequel to stay in a familiar world while introducing and fleshing out new characters.
The change in location and time also offered the chance to expand the beloved wizarding world. We could finally see how different cultures behaved, how they dressed, what their values were, how did their history affect their present, etc. We were already offered a small glimpse into these varied cultures in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (the fourth movie of the OG series), where students of Beauxbatons Academy of Magic in France and Durmstrang Institute in Bulgaria came to Hogwarts for the Triwizard Tournament. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a fantastic (pun intended) opportunity to teach us more about the Harry Potter world that we wished to be part of. For example, it revealed that American wizards call non-magical people ‘no-majes’ rather than muggles, and they completely forbid marriages between no-majes and wizards, as opposed to the British. These are wonderful teasers and make us excited to find out more. The wide assortment of magical creatures also brilliantly developed the universe. In one movie, we learned about more than 20 different species, including Nifflers, Bowtruckles, Mooncalves, Demiguises, and of course, Thunderbirds. Overall, the 2016 movie was a beautiful balance between nostalgic and new.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Everything changed in November 2018, when Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald premiered (like the Fire Nation, but Avatar the Last Airbender will be discussed in a separate editorial). The relationships involving characters who were just introduced and we barely knew anything about were prioritized. While the location was still different, there were several unnecessary jumps back to Hogwarts. These two crucial pieces resulted in a weak plot that jaw-dropping special effects and dreamy cinematography couldn’t fix. Waves upon waves of nostalgic elements consistently made their way into the movie, seemingly trying to wash away the sheer disappointment the audience was about to feel, and thus the phantom menacing happened. But alas, the flexibility that allowed the first part to work so well was no longer there.
Apart from Leta Lestrange (played by Zoë Kravitz), the new characters were set up and then forgotten halfway through the film. The most striking example of this is the case of Nagini (played by Claudia Kim). Potter fans already knew her as Voldemort’s loyal pet snake, which turned out to be a Horcrux and was eventually killed by Neville Longbottom. In Crimes of Grindelwald, we find out that decades before meeting Voldemort, Nagini was a woman with a tragic destiny, being a carrier of a blood curse that would one day cause her to turn into a snake forever. We also discover that she is close to Credence; they have a powerful bond that is a little more than friendship and just a bit less than romance. But that’s where we stop learning about Nagini. One can count the sentences she speaks throughout the whole movie on one hand. Except for the circus scene in which she turns into a snake, she is mostly beside Credence or somewhere in the background. It’s difficult to care about a character you know very little about and only lurks around other people that are deemed more essential for the plot. It was as if Rowling expected us to care about Nagini not because of who she is but because she had a familiar name and a sad fate. Add in the fact that she was hyped up by the studio and Rowling herself to be way more important than this, and it makes her shallow appearance in the movie even more bothersome.
In contrast, Leta Lestrange has a more fulfilling storyline. She also has a familiar name and a sad background. Still, we learn that she is a brave, kind, ambitious, intelligent, and often stubborn woman with a strong moral compass and noticeable romantic feelings for Newt (despite being engaged to his brother). We find these out through her lines, behavior, and interactions with the other characters. Sadly, the only new character that connected with the audience most was killed off at the end. Maybe Nagini will have a more significant role in Fantastic Beasts 3 but then she should have been introduced in that part instead of the second. If you only have time to develop Leta, then focus on her and leave the other characters for the rest of the films. Sure, this means fewer characters for the sequel, but if you do justice to those few characters, then the story can be much more focused and clear.
Another problem the new characters had, which was not present in the first part, was that they all had some sort of connections with the Harry Potter ones. Nagini is Voldemort’s soon-to-be pet snake, Leta and Yusuf are related to Sirus Black and Bellatrix Lestrange, and Grindelwald is Dumbledore’s ‘brother who is closer than a brother.’ Credence is apparently related to Dumbledore, as well. It becomes clear that the series is desperate to make connections to the OG series when there is no need. The first part managed to gain its own identity with minimal links to Harry’s world, and the sequel could have easily achieved the same thing.
The new location also failed to soften the blow. Fantastic Beasts 2 mainly took place in Paris, where Gellert Grindelwald intended to carry out his dark plan of lulling Credence to his side and starting a war against muggles. This would have been a perfect setting to continue the story, but in the midst of the film, we get flashbacks and Dumbledore-centered scenes taking place at Hogwarts. This wouldn’t have been such a glaring issue if we didn’t witness the first movie going out of its way to leave the wizarding school behind. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them took place in New York City, and its main characters were adults in adult situations — the last place you would expect the series to lead to is Hogwarts. It seemed like its progress was undermined by the sequel’s eagerness to collect nostalgia points by name-dropping McGonagall and McLaggen, and offering incredibly subtle hints about Dumbledore’s love life. The first movie teased interesting differences between cultures that could have been taken way further thanks to the change of setting. Seeing Newt navigate through various countries and continents, and occasionally experiencing culture shock would have been interesting and funny. Instead, the film spent most of its runtime in a location that served as a nostalgic trip before anything else. Even the magical creatures, which fascinatingly expanded the universe in the first part, took a backseat. Only six new types of beasts were introduced in the sequel, these being the Chupacabras, Kelpies, Matagots, Augureys, Leucrottas, and Zouwus. This is a striking contrast with the number of creatures seen in Fantastic Beasts 1.
Where Can ‘Fantastic Beasts 3’ Go?
While Crimes of Grindelwald was a major disappointment veiled under the effects of phantom menacing, there is still some hope left. At the time of writing this, there are three more movies that need to come out, meaning there is enough room for improvement. Ideally, Warner Bros., Rowling, Heyman, and the rest of the decision-makers learn from the mistakes and get back on track. They could continue bringing the audience to different lands, exploring even more cultures, and discovering more magical creatures. MuggleNet announced that the third part would be filmed in Rio de Janeiro, which sounds like a promising move. It was obvious that there was so much more to learn about Credence, Nagini, Dumbledore, Grindelwald, Queenie, Jacob, Tina, Newt; so hopefully, the remaining parts will focus on their arcs better and allow us to care about what happens to these characters. There is still time to tone down on the nostalgia and give the series its own identity. Admittedly, casual moviegoers and Potterheads alike still don’t know what Rowling and the producers have in store next, so for all we know, things might make sense in the third part.
However, even if the next three movies are marvelous and the series has a triumphant end, it looks like Crimes of Grindelwald has cemented itself as the bad one out of the five.