Fantastic Beasts: Should we avoid them? - YES

Film editor Steven Ross argues that the Fantastic Beasts series is anything but fantastic

Steven Ross
16th December 2019

[Warning: spoilers for both Fantastic Beasts movies incuded]

The Harry Potter franchise was in many ways what defined British fantasy films of the 2000s. It was a typical tale of good against evil but within a unique setting: a modern wizarding world which ran unseen alongside the muggle world. Truly, something would have been forever missing from cinema had Warner Brothers not taken a risk and adapted the works of an oft-rejected first-time author. But that is where it should have ended.

Director of the last four Harry Potter films & both the Fantastic Beast films.

The Fantastic Beasts films are nothing less than a cash grab of all those involved. There was no risk in these films, with an army of 'Potterheads' in desperate need of some Wizarding World fix, a captive audience was guaranteed. The budget of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them was $180 million, and the money almost dripped from the screen. There was an overabundance of CGI, elaborate set design and some expensive cast members too. Unfortunately, the film became all style and no substance. This is a little better than Crimes of Grindelwald, which didn’t even have style, but more on that later.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is not a bad film per-se, it just isn’t a good film next to Harry Potter 1-8. It is essentially a neutered Harry Potter film, devoid of any serious threat and there are certainly no strong villains. Credence is, I suppose, the major antagonist for the majority of this film. The problem is that he comes off as a weaker Tom Riddle. Ezra Miller plays the character well and I imagine he put forward the performance that director David Yates wanted, it’s just a shame that Credence wasn’t written as a more villainous villain.

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Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) under the spell & Grindelwald in disguise as Graves. Image:IMDB

Then, of course, there is the big reveal at the end and it turns out that master auror Graves (Collin Farrel) was really dastardly (and again, not as scary a villain as Voldemort) Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) all along. Now, at this point, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has become an awkward bystander that shouldn’t really be there but is because he wrote a book that was referenced in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and that’s enough of a link to make five movies with him as a central-ish character. Except it’s not and that’s why by Crimes of Grindelwald it becomes even more uncomfortable that Scamander keeps hanging around.

Unlike the first Fantastic Beasts movie, Crimes of Grindelwald is just an out and out bad film. It lacks everything from basic lighting (I know that Grindelwald escaped his flying prison but I really don’t know how) to characters with more than one dimension. Credence is back and guess what: he still doesn’t know who he is, and neither do we, even at the end of the film. Apparently he’s a missing Dumbledore, if so they retconned the Hell out of that and it doesn’t really make sense, and if it's all a lie then what was the point in the elaborate setup? Johnny Depp also gets to show off his acting skills in this installment and ends up behaving like Jack Sparrow on Valium. Grindelwald just does not seem to care about this big wizarding war. And to be honest, neither does the audience.

Love interests Newt (Eddie Redmayne) & Tina (Katherine Waterston) in the first film. Image:IMDB

The reason that the first Fantastic Beasts film did so well and garnered strong reviews was because it was a pretty good exercise in world-building. Granted it was a world already built, but it was interesting to see an American jazz age take on it. Crimes of Grindelwald has been widely disliked because it starts to tackle a plot that is frankly uninteresting. Sure, in 2000 a series of films about a war between dark and good wizards over the fate of the non-magical people might have sounded like a great idea. In fact it did sound like a great idea, and that’s why they made Harry Potter. The plotline of the Fantastic Beasts films follows the third most interesting wizarding war in the Harry Potter canon. Surely a look at the rise of Voldemort and the creation of the first Order of the Phoenix would have had more potential.

The strongest barometer for the weakness of Crimes of Grindelwald is that the only enjoyable moments were those that harked back to Harry Potter. Seeing Nicolas Flamel, Albus Dumbeldore and Hogwarts offered great nostalgia kicks. However, these moments also served to remind me that there is a far better magical film series that I could be watching. Some might argue that to compare these films to Harry Potter isn’t fair. Seen as that’s basically all that I’ve done for this entire article, I would have to disagree. These films were only made because of their connection to Harry Potter, they were made with a view to squeeze more money out of a loyal fanbase by using the title and fictional author of a book that has no resemblance to the five films that will be rolled out. The Dementors must be about, because these films are lacking a soul.       

Young Dumbledore (Jude Law) sees Grindelwald, his love and greatest desire, in the Mirror of Erised.
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