Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald

2018

Dir. David Yates

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Johnny Depp, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Alison Sudol, and Claudia Kim

Harry Potter was my first literary love. It’s the book series that got me into reading. I adore the books, and they and will always hold a place in my heart. I am also a fan of the Harry Potter films, but as I grow older I have more problems with them. I’ve started to feel like there are more bad movies in the Harry Potter franchise than good ones. Critically, I feel I may be blinded by my love of the property. The first Fantastic Beasts movie was fine. It was a fun expansion of the universe, even if I did find Newt a little hard to connect to as a lead character. I was still excited for The Crimes Of Grindelwald though. The promise of exploring more of the wizard of world lore was enticing.

We start a couple of months after the events of Where To Find Them. Newt has published his book on the titular beasts, but is still banned from leaving the country by the ministry. Evil wizard Grindelwald has escaped custody, and a rumour has emerged that Credence has survived the events of the first movie. Albus Dumbledore asks Newt to go to Paris, where Credence is rumoured to be hiding, to protect the young boy. Grindelwald has more sinister plans for Credence, and heads to Paris in hopes to recruit him.

At this point, you’re either in with the wizarding world or your not. The film is steeped to the core in back story. Its what makes the film so hard to judge for me. As a potter fan, I love receiving all this new information about a world I’ve spent so much time in. As a film fan, it’s not that great of a film. It’s completely overstuffed, and the pacing is atrocious. There are some stand out sequences. The opening sequence where Grindelwald escapes during a prison transfer is one of the best action sequences ever mounted in the wizarding world. So is the final showdown, where Grindelwald delivers a rally to his supporters. It brings in real world stakes, whilst simultaneously reference our own history and the politics of the world today.

In both these sequences Johnny Depp is a standout. He’s casting was incredibly controversial, but he is in fine form here. Other new additions also make their presence felt. Jude Law is fantastic as a younger Dumbledore, whilst Zoë Kravitz is splendid as Leta Lestrange. If the new cast members stand out, it’s to the detriment of the returning cast. Katherine Waterston is completely wasted here, and a romantic sub plot feels so inconsequential. Dan Fogler is still one of the best parts of the series though, bring a great deal of comedy as muggle in the wizarding world. Alison Sudol was perhaps my favourite part of the first film, and she gets more to do here, but the choices made in her character development feel weirdly out of character, forced, and not at all earned. Eddie Redmyane is a much better leading man this round though, but here lies the series biggest problem.

Fantastic Beasts biggest problem is that it’s called Fantastic Beasts. When this was a stand alone movie about the adventures of Newt, that was fine. Now it’s been used as a back door into the Grindelwald story, it doesn’t quite work. It isn’t the right fit. Harry Potter worked because Harry was always integral to the plot. He was always uniquely tied in with the villain. Newt however is surplus to the plot. He has no attachment to Grindelwald. Even though he was the guy who put Grindelwald in prison, Grindelwald doesn’t even seem to care about getting revenge. If Newt seems forced into the story, the beasts he adores feel doubly so. You end up with two films that you’d quite like to see, one the adventures of Newt and his friends, the other the battle between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, but together they don’t quite gel.

There are plenty of Easter eggs for the hardcore here. Some subtle, owls delivering memos at the ministry of magic, others not so, Nicolas Flamel. They’re great to spot, but only end up bogging down an already over crowded film. You come away feeling like you would have loved to have read that as a book, but doesn’t hold together as a film. The middle is languid, and whilst it’s lovely to revisit Hogwarts, it doesn’t feel essential in what is to be a five film series. The film looks spectacular. I saw it IMAX 3D, and it was breathtaking. It might be the best visual film from director David Yates. Although, they now do so much with the magic, when you hear someone say Dumbledore is the greatest wizard of his generation, it feels slightly empty. There are no rules established in terms of who can do what. They’re lovely visuals, but they’ve started to lose some of the magic.

What we have here is a film that may sound great on paper, but in reality doesn’t work. It’s an overpacked mess, but there is so much here you are likely to enjoy at least some part of it. A more focused approach, and a better screenplay would have helped a lot. I came out wanting to talk about it, which is a good thing, but I feel my enjoyment came from being a fan of the property, not from having seen a great film.

7/10

Spoiler Territory

The big talking point in this film is without a doubt the reveal at the end. We find out that Credence is Dumbledore’s brother. Or is he. It’s a tricky one to unpack. Fans will point to the fact that there is an issue with the dates, as Albus Dumbledore’s mum died before Credence would have been born, and his dad would have been in Azkaban. Some think that Grindelwald is lying, but to me the Phoenix seemed to suggest he wasn’t. Credence knew nothing about the Phoenix appearing to Dumbledore’s in need, but we, the audience were told this earlier, so for Grindelwald to be lying is just a cheap trick on the audience, and would leave me feeling slightly cheated. There’s another theory which says that Dumbledore’s sister was an obscurus, and that when she died it latched itself onto another baby which was Credence. I like this theory more than any other.

I feel like the next film will be a quest to find the deathly hallows, and that JK Rowling is using the Dumbledore brothers as a thematic double of the brothers from the deathly hallows story. Credence represents the ultimate power, and so is the elder wand. Aberforth goes into a hiding of sorts, and also survives the longest, so he is the invisibility cloak, and Albus, racked with the guilt of his sisters death is the resurrection stone.

Early Man

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Nick Park

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Richard Ayoade, Johnny Vegas, Mark Williams, and Rob Brydon.

Aardman are something of a British institution. Doing for stop-motion what Pixar does for CG animation, with Director Nick Park acting as their main driving force. Having created and directed the iconic Wallace and Gromit, and had a huge hit with Chicken Run, Early Man marks the first directorial effort for Park in 10 years. This time the scale is much larger, as Park looks past a modern day fictionalised England, and heads all the way back to a pre-historic fictional England.

Early Man is the story of Dug and his tribe. A stone-age group of cavemen who spend their lives hunting rabbit in the valley, a crater of greenery in the middle of the badlands, a desolate wasteland filled with giant ducks. Dug, voiced by Eddie Redmayne, wants to hunt mammoths instead of rabbits, but Chief Bobnar, Timothy Spall, convinces him that the tribe are happy as they are, and are too hapless to hunt mammoths. This idyllic existence is soon interrupted by the invasion of Lord Nooth, Tom Hiddleston using a wonderfully bad French accent. Nooth is lord over a city already in the Bronze Age, and they use their superior technology to kick Dug’s tribe out of the valley so they can mine it for Bronze. Dug travels to the city where he discovers they worship a sacred game called football, and so he challenges the Bronze Aged champions to a game, waging that if the cavemen win they get the valley back, and if they lose they’ll work down the mine for the rest of their lives. The cavemen have never played football though, so Dug relies on the help of female footballer Goona, voiced by Maisie Williams, another gloriously shoddy French accent, to help them.

Early Man is gorgeous to look at. The amount of detail that goes into creating this stop-motion world is incredible, and truly shows what a labour of love making this film must have been. From a zebra crossing made out of a flattened zebra, to in match instant replays acted out by puppets, the world is ingeniously conceived. The art form is also mined for some great comedy too. Opening with an erupting volcano with a title card that informs us this is near Manchester, or a perspective gag with a duck. Park seemingly uses every film technique known in the first half an hour, demonstrating a true mastery of his craft.

The film is also consistently funny. Whether it’s a visual gag, or a one liner. It has a lot of great moments. Lord Nooth receiving a bird message is fantastic, and the training montage which takes place in the One Million Years B.C. inspired badlands is a great deal of fun. This isn’t the only cinematic reference, as the film is littered with in-jokes for cinephiles. It does come with the obligatory kids film messages of being yourself, aim high, and believe in your family, but here they do enrich the story, and add to the stakes when Dug has to weigh his dreams against the prospect of his family spending the rest of their lives working in a mine.

It’s a shame then, that Early Man doesn’t hit the same heights as Parks previous efforts. In terms of story-telling, the plot is functional enough, but it doesn’t carry with it the same emotional weight that Pixar films do. It’s a film for kids, that apart from a couple of references to older films will do nothing for the adults. The other problem the film has, is that although the stop-motion is lovely, it’s clear they haven’t quite mastered how to show football being played with it. I also felt that with a relatively short run time of 1 hour 29 minutes, it did begin to drag in the middle.

Early Man is a great film to take your kids to and kill an hour of your day, but it isn’t an instant classic in the way that Wallace and Gromit or Chicken Run were. It does offer more for adults than a Shawn The Sheep movie will, but still lacks the emotional resonance and depth that we expect from a truly great animation. The first half hour is a joy, and the world building is fantastic to behold. It’s a charming movie, but you just wish there was little more beneath the plasticine surface.

6/10