Return of the blog – Crimes of Grindelwald review
What? A 5 year hiatus from blog writing is nothing, right?
Ha, well, it took something along the lines of Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald to pull me out of not writing in this space to finally using a blog to get my opinion out.
Crimes of Grindelwald is not good, guys. It represents another Hollywood capitalist money grab on one of our favorite fantasy franchises: Harry Potter. Universal Studios knows it can get you to pay for more Harry Potter content. I live a 10 minute walk from the theme park and I can tell you now that since the Harry Potter area finished construction they’ve upped season pass costs from $95 in 2016 to $175 in 2018. Forget gaining ticket sales, Crimes of Grindelwald is all about pushing coal into the Harry Potter cash-train for more retail sales. These studios have learned that when it comes to their best franchise movies they can produce wands, capes, scarves, memorabilia props from the movies, and a million more chachkies to line their pockets and everyone will buy them up.
It’s strange, but I honestly believe that this film is not our fault as consumers, continuing the Harry Potter franchise is a solid idea. I’ve been thinking about how a literary work becomes a “classic” and the Harry Potter novels fit that description. The books by themselves are easy to read and understand, tell a vast and compelling story, contain many redeeming characters displaying commendable qualities and virtues, and the whole universe of magic contained within appeals to a couple of generations. J.K. Rowling’s books are masterpieces of the YA genre, and I dearly wish she had continued writing novels to continue that legacy.
I find it a shame, then, that J.K.’s name scrawls across the screen as the sole writer for Crimes of Grindelwald. It’s a movie following in the footsteps of such prequel classics as The Phantom Menace, The Scorpion King, and The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. I almost put 300: Rise of an Empire in that list, but that’s another magnitude of bad.
So, what happened? In any classic turn of events, somewhere in production this movie lost the idea of showing us the actual plot and decided to just tell us about it instead. The golden rule of writing, “show, don’t tell,” was abandoned at some stage, and unfortunately I think that was early on. By the end of this movie, do we understand the motivations of Grindelwald? Does he? Did Johnny Depp do anything at all besides show up and recite his lines? I recall seeing the “climax” of the film and wondering why any of it happened? And then there’s the “twist” of the film and I was genuinely confused. I’m a fan of the franchise, I follow much more complicated and cryptic background lores than exist in the HP world (hello 40K!). I was emotionally invested in the events of the film, yet came out feeling like I was just given a partial payment for my investment.
And there’s a problem, too. This movie is all set up for more to come. J.K. could have made this her Empire Strikes Back moment: the bad guys that seemed to be defeated now launch their new campaign of supremacy ending with a unique twist. But unlike Darth Vader’s paternal admission, Crimes of Grindelwald didn’t show me anything bearing emotional weight. There were character deaths, none of which shocked or bothered me.
When I saw the Hobbit in 2012, I left the theater thinking that I got what I wanted out of it, yet still there was something wrong in the back of my mind. Desolation of Smaug & Battle of Five Armies showed us all what happened: they pushed too little material into too much of a movie, relied on their CGI-special effects instead of the brilliant practical effects used in Lord of the Rings, and also tried to glam up and “Hollywood-ify” the script by adding a cross-species love story that no one wanted or needed.
Crimes of Grindelwald has all of that, plus a weaker script. Even now, having seen the film twice, I cannot tell you what the plot of the film is in any succinct idea except this: Grindelwald shows up, people get angry. The whole business of Credence’s heritage is a messy thing, and it’s going to take another whole film to unravel. Newt Scamander’s reluctant hero business is fine, I really liked him in this, but that’s about all. I admit that I do like Jude Law as the 1920’s Dumbledore. He does have another 60-70 years to get tired & crotchety a la Michael Gambon, but I bought his performance, and I will look forward to the next installment. That word, installment, however, is the greatest problem.
Somehow, consumers need to be able to communicate to Hollywood studios that installments of a franchise’s mythos are not what we want in our movies. The story of the Crimes of Grindelwald would have been MUCH better serviced by a novel that could’ve really dove into the particulars of a character and their motivations. Instead, we get double-flashbacks within a prequel in a story where almost nothing happens.
If Crimes of Grindelwald was any good, it would probably be winning box office numbers, right? Today is December 4th, just about 3 weeks after its release, and my local cinema just reduced it to two showings a day in favor of more screenings of Ralph Breaks the Internet.
In a shrinking market, Hollywood is being cautious with their blockbusters, but they’ve lost the notion of making a quality product above making a profitable one. So, because Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald is attached to a proven moneymaking franchise, they pushed it out regardless of quality. None of this is any big or shocking revelation.
I saw Crimes of Grindelwald twice, once because I wanted to, then once again because I felt like I had to try and understand it better. There’s nothing there. It’s a candy-coated shell that looks and smells like its other franchise films, but is entirely devoid of that rich inside.
They say you vote with your wallet. Here’s my plea: don’t buy any Crimes of Grindelwald merchandise this Christmas. Fans of the franchise, hold out for something better. It’s out and done with, there’s nothing we or they can do about it now. Hopefully someone gets the message and realizes that the next film owes something to the fans, and furthermore hopefully someone realizes that these mythos-installment-plan movies don’t work.
Crimes of Grindelwald final score – SEVERAL crimes against humanity, but only a 2 out of 10 stars.