Whew, the next installment of Fantastic Beasts surely jumped into the plots and character development pool on the deep end. With how mixed the reviews have been, I really wanted to see the movie and get my own take on it. Sometimes, people are whining for no reason and nitpicking unnecessarily, and that’ll show in the overall reviews. However, when I sat down to write my own review, I realized I was leaning more toward an analysis than a review. I’m warning you: it’s long. However, you might enjoy some insights, and it might convince you the movie is not as bad as some people are making it out to be.
You be the judge.
I’m not going to touch on Johnny Depp’s casting beyond this first sentence, that’s for the people involved and the courts. I will say, though, that I think he did a pretty good job of representing what we know of Gellert Grindelwald. He has quiet charisma in a way we don’t see from the Harry Potter villain, Voldemort. Yes, we don’t see Voldemort in the first war, only the second, when his mind is supposedly fractured from the Horcruxes and their destruction.
However, if we look at their goals, respective ages, and targeted groups, we can establish that Grindelwald has the more silver tongue of the two characters. They are also, possibly, two sides of the same coin. It’s said that psychopaths are cold-hearted (Grindelwald), and sociopaths are hot-headed (Voldemort). Of course, neither characters are purely one or the other. They are the yin and yang of the antisocial personality disorder: primarily one with a dollop of the other.
“A common danger unites even the bitterest enemies.” – Aristotle
While Voldemort’s goal feels more attainable, ruling the magical world of Britain, that’s where he went wrong. Voldemort divided the British wizards with his goals, because they were a hard line in the sand not everyone was comfortable with. Blood purity with purebloods ruling over mudbloods, half-breeds, and beasts. If Dumbledore hadn’t been alive, he might have met with less resistance, but his views were too hard a pill to swallow.
What’s so amusing, is that if Voldemort had acted more like a Slytherin as opposed to a thinly veiled Gryffindor, he probably could have won. He went for might over subtlety, and focused more inward instead of outward. This is why he was more successful in the first war as opposed to the second one. The first one he drew people in with muggle baiting/attacks, and so on, before he succumbed to his own curse. In the second war we see him going for the magical society itself, as opposed to focusing more on the muggles and unifying people in that sense.
Fear the army of sheep led by a lion.
On the other hand, Grindelwald takes a fear almost all wizarding folks experience, world-wide, and plays on it. Look at how many people Grindelwald is able to sway to his side, because he unites them against their true enemy: the muggles. Muggles are reckless, violent, and nothing more than ‘beasts of burden’. We see the horror on the faces of the magical folk when he shows his visions of the upcoming WWII. He uses this to bring people in from all walks of life. He tailors his approach and promises to his audience, and we see this in his one-on-one interactions with Credence, Queenie, and others.
We didn’t get too much of Grindelwald’s behavior in the first movie, because he was pretending to be someone else. His most genuine interactions are with Credence, (a.k.a. Corvus, a.k.a. Aurelius), with his coaxing, which led up to his cruel dismissal of Credence in the face of his supposed uselessness. In that light, they needed to flesh Grindelwald out in this movie, and we get that.
We get insight into his true nature at various points: the pet he casually tosses from the coach after saying it was too needy, and his decision to let the muggle baby be killed by his follower. The former gives us a look at how he views interpersonal relationships. They are unnecessary beyond how they can help him accomplish his goals. Once those goals are achieved it is time to throw them away.
With the baby we get an even better look at his casual disdain for life in general beyond his own. It’s my opinion that it probably didn’t even matter that the baby was a muggle. If you put a magical baby in front of him, with no followers there to witness his actions, would he kill the baby? Given what we know of his personality, I’d say that, unless it was proven to him that the baby would be of some use to him later, the likelihood is that he’d kill the baby no matter its lineage.
Which leads me into why it’s so important for him to have Queenie at his side. While he’s good at manipulating people on a broad scale, and can usually do okay in a couple of one-on-ones, he needs Queenie to help him navigate multiple interactions with people. As an example, he knows he doesn’t have the skill set to interact properly with Credence, as evidenced in the first movie when he blows it and sends Credence into a downward spiral, so he’s using Queenie to help him with that. She’s his Jiminy Cricket.
Do I think that having a different actor play the character in the first movie hurt the character? Not really, because he was playing a role while under Polyjuice. Barty Crouch Jr. did this with Mad-Eye Moody, and apparently well enough that it fooled everyone except his father, who only figured it out because of a very specific tic. So, with as much as the movie tried to do, (which was a lot and way too much), I think they did a great job giving Grindelwald a depth we don’t see in the first movie.
Not to mention, the first movie was setting up our main character: Newt. Putting too much emphasis on Grindelwald would have detracted from that.
In all, I think they handled Grindelwald well in the movie.
The Relationship of Albus & Grindelwald
I understand there was some concern that there wasn’t enough shown in regards to this, but I feel like they did the relationship aspect well. You don’t need a movie to hit you over the head with a frying pan. This wasn’t about avoiding pushing the relationship too much into the light in case they offended someone. Trust me, J.K. Rowling is rather unapologetic when she gives us her tidbits about characters and facts, and I remember the explosion from the Albus Dumbledore being gay bombshell.
The movie portrayed this in a bittersweet, tragic, and perfectly subtle way that did the relationship justice. The way they held hands when they did the blood pact; The overall scene with the mirror of Erised; The way he told people they were closer than brothers. You don’t need Albus to come out in a full-on, one-man-band style and go; “I’M GAY. I SCREWED GRINDEWALD. I LOVE MEN.” Trying too hard can be just as damaging as not doing it at all. One-man-banding it would be tacky, and do a disservice to the character and his personality. Albus was a private person, and he wouldn’t behave that way. Weaving the relationship in with the story so it flows with everything and contributes to the story, rather than detract and distract, is the right way to go. The movie title isn’t: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: My Love for Grindelwald.
And saying to Newt, or anyone, that his love was why he wouldn’t move against Grindelwald, when we find out in the end it’s because of the Blood Pact, would make him a liar and also not be in character. I don’t know if people remember how Dumbledore was in the Harry Potter series, but he almost never told anyone anything straight out. In fact, Harry has to find out quite a bit of information from a dying Snape because Dumbledore never tells him, and doesn’t leave a way to tell Harry, despite the fact he knew he was dying. He actively avoided Harry for an entire year, rather than tell him anything or why, in the Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore didn’t become this way overnight. Stop trying to shoehorn a character into a situation that doesn’t match their personality.
Speaking of the Blood Pact…
Thank the cute baby nifflers that this was cleared up. For years fans have wondered why it took Dumbledore so long to confront Grindelwald. Yes, we had the theory that it was because of his love for Grindelwald, which might have been part of it, but to allow so many people to die? That was an uneasy thing to think about. Dumbledore isn’t the perfect hero, we know that, but to let Grindelwald build an army and get that far in his agenda? It made no sense to let that happen.
With the blood pact, Dumbledore has a legitimate reason for not moving directly against him. He can’t. So, what does he do? He builds an information network, and helps when he can. Like when he tells Theseus not to move against Grindelwald if he has a rally.
Of course, he could have told someone that was why, but that wouldn’t be in character, either. As established, Dumbledore doesn’t tell anyone, anything, unless it’s pried from the cold, dead lips of a Potions Master.
Nagini and Credence
I won’t spend too terribly much time here. Not because I don’t want to, but because there isn’t much to say. This is one of those situations where the story tried to do too much, and didn’t play out well. The actors did admirably with what they were given, but unfortunately, they weren’t given much. While Credence’s personality is established in the first film, his relationship with Nagini is almost as obscure as his Obscurial form.
It’s understandable how two people, forced into forms and powers they didn’t ask for, (Nagini’s being a Maledictus and Credence an Obscurial), would come together and form a bond. We see this when Nagini embraces Credence after he goes Obscurial and tries to kill a man, when most would shy away in horror and/or terror. However, with how little screen time and development the relationship gets, when Nagini tries to tell Credence not to go with Grindelwald, it comes off flat. The emotion isn’t there in the same way it is with Jacob and Queenie, which is a real shame. I was looking forward to getting a really good star-crossed lovers’ story from them, because we know she’s doomed for sure, and him most likely, but that isn’t what we received.
As for Nagini being a submissive pet to Voldemort, that seems a little unfair. Nagini is a ruthless, willing ally of Voldemort, which we get in her interactions with him, his followers and victims, and when she inhabits Bathilda Bagshot’s body to try and kill Harry. Submissive does not come into play here at all.
On the other hand, I want to know what drove her to join Voldemort. With her being adamant against Credence going with Grindelwald, what caused her to change her tune when Voldemort rises to power? Bitterness? Finally finding someone that could talk to her after years of loneliness and isolation of being a human in a snake’s body? Has she gone insane? Is the eventual loss of Credence, likely at the hands of ministry, what drives her over the edge? I want to know the in-between.
I guess my only observation of an inconsistency here is, what kind of cover-up is going to have to happen that we never hear about Credence in the Harry Potter books? I mean, if people were willing to speak with Skeeter about Ariana and Aberforth, there has to be someone alive and willing to talk about Credence, right?
Queenie and Jacob
This was probably one of the more interesting changes in character in the story, but on the way home from the movie I was able to explain an aspect of why this was possible to my husband.
Queenie is a natural Legilimens, which means she can hear thoughts. Basically, in Harry Potter speak, she’s a telepath. Now, when we think about another famous literary telepath, Sookie Stackhouse, we get some insight into why Queenie’s character is so flighty and ‘blond’. It’s exhausting hearing people’s thoughts, day in and day out, in your mind, and it can lead to some behavior associated with a person being ditzy.
Now, think about how overwhelming this can be. Combine that with the fact she just had a major falling-out with Jacob, is in a foreign city where she can’t speak the language, can’t find her rock, Tina, and hence she’s stressed to the max. She has hit her limit, sitting on the curb in the rain, sobbing, when a woman comes and offers help.
People familiar with Harry Potter likely picked up on why there was a sudden silence when the woman touched her: the woman was Occluding. Someone who occludes, or an Occlumens, is shielding their thoughts. It would make a fair bit of sense that she was doing this. As a henchman of Grindelwald, she would need to shield her thoughts from anyone who tried to invade them as a way to get to Grindelwald and his plans.
We also see this in Queenie’s interaction with the woman when she says; “I can’t tell if you’re joking, or if you’re just French.” This is the second clue the woman is Occluding, because why wouldn’t Queenie know if she’s joking or not when she can read minds? I know she said it’s easier with some people more than others, but to be a complete blank? Unlikely. Using this train of thought, it would be safe to say that Grindelwald is also an Occlumens.
Keeping those things in mind, how would you feel if, after years of chatter in your head you could never turn off, you suddenly had peace and quiet in your own mind? It would be pure heaven. At first, anyway. Combine that with Grindelwald’s enticement that she could marry Jacob if he were in charge, the one thing she says she wants more than anything, why wouldn’t she join him?
As for her leaving Jacob, we see that she reacts quite strongly to being called crazy, and this is likely her way of proving she isn’t crazy. That she’s just trying to find the way that will enable them to have a normal life and family together.
It’s tragic when she screams at him to come with her, and for the first time he looks at her like he doesn’t know her, and refuses.
Tina and Newt:
Their relationship was kind of odd in the movie. We didn’t need the mistaken magazine article for the plot. Queenie could have just told Newt that Tina was off on an assignment, and when Newt shows up, they could have played on the same reactions in the first movie that Tina had when Newt interfered. It would have taken some pressure off the multiple sub-plots, and played into a more comfortable feel to their relationship. Newt doesn’t need the misunderstanding to be awkward with his interactions with her. He has that in spades without.
Speaking of him being awkward, my only complaint about the acting was the mumbling. Theatres are loud, and I still had a few moments where I couldn’t understand him. As for his mannerisms, they are just part of who he is, so I’m not sure why there are complaints in regards to it. I don’t personally feel it took attention away from the story, and it seems like a cop-out for people who just don’t like odd people. It makes them uncomfortable, and people don’t like being uncomfortable.
The Whole Lot of Lestranges
This was another one of the situations where there was too much going on. I understand that we were trying to prove or disprove Credence’s heritage, but this could have been streamlined. You already show one of Grindelwald’s henchman stealing the genealogy tree from the French Ministry, (which was beautifully pretentious, by the way. I loved its look, the super creepy lady guarding the vault area, and not to mention the spirit cats!), so why not have her poke and prod Credence and Leta into the situation?
If we’re being honest, Yusuf’s entire role can be boiled down to explaining why Leta was black and Credence was white. It wasn’t necessary, and added nothing to the plot. They could have just had Leta say, “My father was a terrible man. He imperiused my mother into marrying him, and she died giving birth to me. Then he remarried, not for love—he didn’t even love me, his daughter. But when Corvus was born…It was only then he felt love. I’m sorry, but you can’t be him, Credence, because I killed Corvus. [Lead into movie explanation].”
Or have a Grindelwald flunky, like Grimmson, taunt them toward revealing all this. Credence has tried to kill him, and you would have gotten a strong reaction from Credence if Grimmson said things like; “Your family must not have loved you,” or something like that.
(Hey, I’m not paid to write the script, I’m just here to poke holes in it in my free time.)
As it stands, this dude—Grimmson—that they made a huge deal out of, effectively vanishes into thin air. They could have used him more effectively, and slimmed down on how many characters they introduced as well as the number of sub-plots. Less is more.
A Few Random Questions:
Newt? Really? You want Newt to be an auror, go after Grindelwald, or hunt down Credence? Why? Have you met Newt? This just seemed silly to me. Maybe if Grindelwald had an injured Grindylow on his back he’d be helpful, otherwise, not so much.
What’s up with Abernathy? We don’t get his story, and he never speaks despite getting a cool, new tongue.
How many pureblood families will Credence go through? Is he really a Dumbledore? Does that mean the woman on the ship that drowned is the mother of Albus, Ariana, Aberforth, and Credence (Aurelius)? Does this mean his mother, Kendra, got pregnant right before Percival, their father, was carted off to Azkaban? Why was she on a ship to America without her other children? If that woman is the mom, why didn’t she use magic to not drown in the middle of the ocean? If that woman is not the mom, then what the bowtruckle is going on?
Why did Grindelwald let Spielman live when he made his escape? Seemed silly after he killed all those other guys.
Anyone else amused that the McClaggan family trait seems to be arrogance in the way the Weasley’s trait is red hair?
Young McGonagall? Yes!
Most importantly, though: When will someone come up with a way to detect this damnable Polyjuice potion? Honestly! The stuff seems to be the preferred dark wizard infiltration method, and yet, they are duped every time. Boggles the mind.
In closing, I don’t feel like the movie was as gutter trash horrible as people made it out to be, but it wasn’t as good as the first one. They simply tried to do way too much, and it came off as rushed and half-baked. Even if they’d made it half an hour longer, it probably wouldn’t have helped. They should have trimmed down on the sub-plots, and used that time to focus on other aspects of the story to strengthen them.
Insights and Observations Part Two found here.