FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD
If there is one aspect of the Harry Potter universe that I think was criminally underappreciated, it was the production design. Audiences were plunged into worlds described by J.K. Rowling in her splendid books, and the wizards moved about in a world that Hollywood created. Hogwarts Castle was a miracle of engineering and fantastic designs, with its ghostly paintings, moving stair cases and the Great Hall, with its ever-changing sky. Equally fine was the cinematography in each film, with its soaring shots high above Hogwarts and the camera moving quickly through the bowels of the great castle. Remember those thrilling Quidditch matches? Stunning to behold, even if I did not have a clue what the game was all about. Potter had to catch the ball? Superb each time out.
In Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the film again centres on the adventures of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) a magizoologist; like Hagrid in years to come, he cares for the fantastical creatures within this world. Opening where the previous film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), left off in 1920’s New York City, the change of locale offers an interesting bit of design change, moving towards Art Deco and the Jazz Age. The evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is consolidating his power and, like Voldemart to come, is using his dark magic to take over the wizard world and eliminate those who are not pure blooded wizards.
From the very beginning of this film, it is steeped in a sense of doom, of something terrible yet to come and races towards that conclusion. Like the Harry Potter books and films, Rowling was never afraid to kill off a major character if it moved the narrative along, if it made sense. Some of the greatest moments of the Potter films were those dealing out death, from Harry’s parents, Sirius Black, Dumbledore, one of the Weasly twins, the evil Lestrange, Voldemort himself, and Harry dying, only to be brought back to life. Throughout this new film there is such a sense of foreboding that it’s a challenge to really enjoy the film. We realize from the very beginning that we are headed in the direction of some sort of wizard apocalypse, and it gives the entire film a darkness from which it cannot escape.
By the time Newt shows up with his suitcase of magic, the narrative is well in motion. Asked to help find Creedence (Ezra Miller) before Grindelwald gets to him, he reluctantly agrees.
A word about Redmayne as Newt. Yes, he is an Oscar winning actor, superb as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything (2014) and very fine in Les Miserables (2012). But he is one of those fine actors who requires direction or his “acting” quickly becomes schtick. Darting looks here and there, furtive glances about, looking down at the ground as he speaks, seemingly shy but really being coy, it all becomes tiresome VERY quickly. I will give him this – here he dives into some of the character’s darker characteristics, with no thought to how it might impact what the audience thinks of him. Granted, we do have the benefit of watching the actors literally grow in front of us as we did with the Potter kids. Thank God we have interesting supporting players all around him to drive the story.
The best of them, though with limited screen time, is Jude Law as the young, already powerful and wise Dumbledore. Law infuses him with the essence of both Richard Harris and Michael Gambon, who portrayed him as an old man, and we can see this dashing young wizard becoming that wise old man. The scenes with Newt are bizarre, oddly flirtatious, suggesting Dumbledore might have been a homosexual, long a rumour. Whatever. If Rowling says so, then so be it. Truly what does it matter?
Johnny Depp, looking like he was dipped in candy frosting, is wasted here as the villain, Grindelwald, just a grinning psychopath, and I am not sure at all what he is doing in the picture. Ezra Miller, a genuinely gifted young actor, is also more or less cast aside with a couple of key scenes and then forgotten.
Back from the first film, and giving lovely performances, are Dan Fogler as Jacob, and Alsion Sudol as Queenie, each delightful bursting into the early stages of the film, bringing utter enchantment to the screen. That enjoyable chemistry they had in the first film is back, however brief.
Most of the characters find themselves in Paris, the wizardly world of the great city, amidst carnivals, and back alleys that look like the places Harry Potter did his shopping for school. This allowed the designers to have a great time and what they offer is a feast for the eyes, far more interesting than anything in the plot. And the fantastic creatures are just that, each more wonderous than the next.
This is where the film goes off the rails, with simply too may personalities, too many major plot twists and too much going on to find any sense of a driving narrative. Rowling continues to explore her curiosity for totalitarianism, which was vividly explored in all of the Potter films, and again here. Grindelwald is clearly a Voldemort before there was a Dark Lord, a truly bad guy, and feared by Dumbledore and Newt with good reason.
Director David Yates directs the film, and keeps it moving with breathtaking speed. But this time there is too much to cram into a two-hour film, because it is all but bursting. Eventually it becomes too much to take in, like Jumanji (1995) far too noisy for me.
Made me long for Voldemort and to hear Snape whisper with masked hatred ….”Potter…”
The green guy is so much a part of the holiday season, it is tough to write a review for this good looking, but empty new film. Using CGI this time, the creators have crafted a movie that sadly has too much unnecessary filler to get it to feature film size.
The 1966 TV classic, voiced by the great Boris Karloff, remains one of the greatest holiday classics in TV history, certainly part of nearly every North American kid’s childhood. With his lovely expressive voice, Karloff both narrated the piece and brought the voice of the Grinch to life. Years later, Ron Howard attempted a live action feature film, hoping Jim Carrey could pull it off. Fleshing the story out with background as to why he so hated Christmas, which permitted Christine Baranski to give an overly sexual performance, hurt the movie. The greatest trouble, however, was Carrey’s out of control mugging and wildly over the top performance. And did Howard search the earth for the cutest, most precocious Cindi Lou Who he could find? Anthony Hopkins narrated the film, bringing none of the Karloff magic to the film – some things were meant to be left alone. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) was a massive hit at the box office, but crucified by critics, and the DVD release felt like unnecessary torture for parents. I avoided the family room if I heard it on, and it seemed always to be on.
GREAT THINGS SHOULD BE LEFT ALONE.
This new film softens the Grinch to something less sinister. He is more like a cranky green Daffy Duck than the Grinch of the book or the TV show. He is not that dark, but he still wants to steal Christmas from Whoville.
Living high in the clouds on Mount Crumpet, with his precious dog Max, a great deal of the story will be familiar to viewers.
Voiced by the dulcet tones of Benedict Cumberbatch, who is fun to listen too, the Grinch provides some laughs for the kids in preparing his scheme. There are some new plot developments to expand the story, though the main narrative does justice to the book. Wisely, the makers of this moved away from the Howard film altogether. There is a Cindy Lou Who, older this time, less cute, a normal little girl, and the town of Whoville is a dazzling creation.
But focus is on the green guy trying to ruin Christmas.
Kids will love it, adults will endure and can be consoled by the fact it is not nearly as annoying as the Howard film.
One thing that really bugged me. When you have an iconic tune like “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” do not, under any circumstances, blow it. In blowing that, they helped to blow their own movie.
Well done, Mr. Cumberbatch, those two measly stars are for you.