I’m going to caution y’all: this is not going to be a happy review and I’m going to go in-depth on this. For one, the film has been out for a few weeks, so I think people who really wanted to check this out already have; and for another, I cannot possibly accurately describe how much I want to beat this film with a mighty paddle for pissing me off. As I previously declared for the last Fantastic Beasts film, I consider myself a hardcore Harry Potter-fan, I consumed all the books and the side stuff and really appreciated the movies for what they were able to accomplish. But this new direction of the “Wizarding World” courtesy of Warner Brothers, fresh off their grand defeat with superheroes, makes me very, very weary that we are in for three more of these goddamn films. I’ll drop the spoiler warning for the really plot-heavy stuff later on, but Potterheads have been given their warning now.
So after the events of the last film which saw Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), master dark wizard extraordinaire captured at the hands of the American Ministry of Magic, he, what a shock, escapes in grand fashion to terrorize the world over with his talk of pureblood wizards dominating over the non-magical humans. Meanwhile, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is back in London getting chastised by the British Ministry of Magic for almost destroying half of New York City in the last movie but being given a chance to redeem his international travel rights by hunting down Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) in Paris who was thought dead in the last movie because he turned into a dark cloud rage beast…thing. If you’re curious at the frequency I’m dropping references to the last film, keep in mind that this sequel assumes you gave enough of a shit to absorb and love every minute plot detail for this second installment.
Anyways, Scamander hates working for “the man” or something (it’s not really clear), so he turns down the one means of doing his…job? Hobby? Pastime? (Put a pin in that) That’s when Albus Dumbledore (a sexy version played by Jude Law) tells Scamander he must go to Paris to locate Credence and stop Grindelwald from abusing the boy because Dumbledore suspects he really the last male in a long of powerful wizards by the name of Lestrange. (There’s a crap ton of telling without showing in this film, my God). Again, Newt says he doesn’t want to get involved in anymore Grindelwald business, until he finds out his crush from the last movie, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), is in Paris also looking for Credence for, you guessed it, fuck all reason. The reason Newt is aware of this is because Tina’s sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol) shows up unannounced with with non-magic user, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), in tow declaring they are engaged. Newt, seeing Jacob is very clearly enchanted (a nice, magic word for being compelled against his fucking will) breaks the enchantment and Queenie heads off for Tina. Jacob, still in love with a psycho-stalker because God-knows-fucking-why, decides to join Newt on his quest to meet up with Tina in hopes of getting back with his manipulative, psycho-stalker. Confusing bullshit ensues.
People, I’m not joking that what I had just written is the first 20 minutes of the goddamn film. Normally, I take the beginnings of these reviews to give you a quick plot synopsis to give you an idea of what you’re in for, but it’s practically impossible for this discombobulated film. It is, without any doubt in my mind, an epic disaster of filmmaking. Yes, this is actually worse than that stupid Venom film, which was just brazenly incompetent. For Fantastic Beasts 2, this is a whole another level of incompetency that I have not seen since the Star Wars Prequels. And I am not exaggerating when I say that The Phantom Menace is a more coherent prequel than this long-winded diatribe of cinematic diarrhea.
The plot is a mess, but it’s really only the beginning of this movie’s problems. So let’s talk about the characters first before I have to dive in spoilers. For starters, anything you liked about the characters in the last movie are tossed out the goddamn window to fall several stories to their deaths, as many are re-written to be as thoroughly unlikable as possible. Tina Goldstein, the no-nonsense independent investigator from the first film is reintroduced here as a woman scorned believing that her crush was actually engaged to another woman on account of a misprint in the local papers (you know, romantic comedy bullshit that good romcoms don’t even do because they know that’s idiotic). Queenie has been rebranded as a borderline wacko in this sequel, when she had a very sweet romance with the non-magical Jacob in the last movie. In between sequels, they got together anyways but the magic world forbids commingling between magical and nonmagical races because heavy-handed metaphors are not J.K. Rowling’s strong suit. However, Queenie then decides to enchant (i.e. remove all free-will) Jacob to get married anyways and Jacob, quite rightly, points out how rushed, rash, and fucking insane she’s acting. Her character arc in this film is practically unforgivable, but I’ll hold on to that chestnut for the spoilers.
Ironically, the character I gave the least shit about made me like him slightly more and that would be Eddie Redmayne’s Newt. It’s clear that the direction he’s going with this character is to put him on the autistic spectrum, as an innocent and inquisitive mind, but the film also doesn’t spend as much time with him as we did in the last movie. That’s because the film erratically shifts perspective like an excitable dog between Newt and Jacob’s adventure, Tina’s investigation, Queenie’s seduction into the dark side, Johnny Depp acting like Johnny Depp, Sexy Dumbledore getting his angst on, and Zoe Kravitz playing…an old girlfriend of Newt named Leta Lestrange who decided to marry his brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), and I’ll once again get back to this plot point later on.
But the film doesn’t know how to juggle all the journeys at once, and worse the tone wavers wildly between goofy slapstick and truly WTF moments of darkness in a children’s film including: implied rape, baby-killing (twice), body horror, vengeance pacts, and a lot of other unnecessary nastiness that makes this “whimsical” world feel less exciting to be a part of. The only things that try to remind you of the “magical” world of Harry Potter are very odd references to relatives of tertiary characters in the books and films and some perplexing revisions to the lore like mentioning that Voldermort’s pet snake, Nagini, was actually a Korean woman who was cursed to eventually be trapped in the form of a snake for the rest of time. Why is this important at all? No goddamn reason is given and the only explanation I could come up with was a very misguided attempt at diversity to make a pet into a different race.
And on a technical level, this film is a sorry state of affairs. Camera work is all over this place in terms of quality, with some decent action set pieces being chased by phenomenally bad dialogue sequences and dizzying handheld camerawork that made me motion sick. The only positive thing I could say about this whole execrable experience was the computer generated effects were genuinely impressive, more so than Warner Brothers’ big budget super hero specials. But as I have stated countless times before, special effects mean absolutely nothing if there’s no character for me to root for or a story that intrigues me. And this film blasts its two kneecaps with a shotgun on these fronts.
Consider this: no one has a character arc in this movie. Arcs are important as they demonstrate a significant change in how a character interacts with and sees the world. They also make the characters relatable to an audience, as many good movies show off characters with familiar conflicts of self-discovery, relationships to family, or personal responsibility. And this movie utterly fails to give you a single character with a relatable goal to root for. Either because they are acting unreasonable (Tina and Queenie), they are bland paper cutouts with all personality sand blasted off (Jacob and Newt), or are too shrouded in mystery to give one ounce of a shit (Dumbledore and Leta Lestrange). The reliance on uncovering mysteries also doubles as this film’s biggest downfall.
See this is a prequel to the Harry Potter films, so we know that Dumbledore will still be around and Grindelwald will be defeated because the films and books straight up told us this was so. So all this set up for big, earth-shattering mysteries feels all for naught as no one in any of the Harry Potter films and books ever felt the need to revisit these apparent big deals. But what really dooms these mysteries is that you don’t give one ounce of a deep-fried tampon as to why they matter to any of these characters, because you don’t give a damn about any of these characters. So these major revelations land with an audible thud and a bone-crunching snap of the spine of the poor actor who had to deliver this boring ass exposition.
I’ll jump into spoilers now, so stick around after the rating to learn more about why this train wreck doesn’t work. For everyone else, nothing but the special effects worked in this film. This is a grand disappointment on every conceivable level for me, and I’m really, really sad I have to give this rating as a major fan of the Harry Potter lore. But J.K. Rowling has plunged headfirst into George Lucas-level arrogance here, and I’m not giving her a pass on this garbage. This movie is straight up…
SOME OL’ BULLSHIT
Spoilers from here on out. Alright, so several characters want to kill Credence because he’s a threat to anyone around him on account of him being a dark cloud rage monster…thing. But another character that I don’t give a shit to look up wants to kill him because he’s really the long lost son of a powerful wizard who raped the poor character’s mother and left her to die. Then the half-sister of this character is revealed to be Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange who reveals to all that she already killed this long-lost son by accident and she had had accidentally kidnapped Credence and gave him to an abusive household in the last movie. Then Johnny Depp swoops in on the end to reveal that the real story behind Credence is that he’s actually the long-lost brother of Albus Dumbledore and that it will be his destiny to destroy his brother….
I’ll give you a moment to drink some water only to spit it out in a double take. Ready? Go.
Finished? Good, so what the flying high fucking hell is the point of this stupid exercise? We already know that Credence isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Harry Potter lore, so this “shocking” revelation doesn’t make any goddamn sense. And if it is just a ruse on Johnny Depp’s part, then it’s not a very good one because the audience doesn’t goddamn care.
Lot’s of other spoilerly things just pissed me off. Queenie’s turn to the dark side was about as graceful as a swan colliding against a window pane in terms of how clumsy it was. The reveal that Nagini was actually a human woman serves no friggin purpose whatsoever. And Zoe Kravitz’s character was said in the marketing material to be the woman responsible for Newt getting ostracized by the Wizarding community and being Newt’s first love but the problem is neither of the two movies explain what the hell she did that made Newt take the fall for her nor do they even reveal that the two were even remotely interested in each other.
Honestly, I left the theater exasperated at all the horrible ways this film went wrong. And I can’t believe there’s THREE more of these movies slated to come out over the next six years. So buckle up kids, it’s going to be a long ride.