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Some Thoughts on FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD, or, The Problem With Prequels

Warning: The following article contains considerable spoilers from Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them and its sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Read on accordingly.

Folks, I’m not what you’d call a hardcore Harry Potter fan.

I don’t know what house I’d be filed into, as I didn’t see the point in signing up for Pottermore to do so.

I’ve read all seven books, enjoyed them greatly – even had a regular thing of reading each new book within about a day of release, for books 4-7.

Really dig the movies! Revisit all eight pretty regularly, even with their common reappearance on cable as of late.

But I don’t have the depth of knowledge of many of my friends. I don’t remember every name of every obscure headmaster at Hogwarts, or legendary wizards dark and light. But I think I do OK.

That said, when JK Rowling and the team at Warner Bros announced they were revisiting the Wizarding World, I was excited.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, sure it was a text book in Potter-proper, but my mind raced with the potential. And when it was said that the film was going to take place in the Roaring Twenties? Even cooler. That’s an era, a moment which is so rarely encapsulated in film, let alone in a big time blockbuster film franchise.

The trailers hit, photos arrived from Entertainment Weekly, and I was enamored with the visual style – incredibly arresting. I was in.

And then the first movie hit…and it was kind of a mess.

We had the story of a lovable, strange wizard in Newt Scamander – one who had the love of incredible, magical creatures, many in his briefcase – and during a trip to New York City, they all got out.

Sounds like a possible Indiana Jones romp, or maybe even a Doctor Who episode. Appropriate, given that Eddie Redmayne seemed to be channeling – intentionally or not – Matt Smith’s Doctor.

What made the movie so strange, however, was that this family friendly romp was juxtaposed with a very grim story of evil wizards on the rise, a caustic wizard government in the United States, and the lengthy abuse of a powerful wizard (Ezra Miller’s Credence) – one which caused him to lash out with immense destruction.

The two seemed incongruent, as if JK Rowling – writing a screenplay for the first time – had two stories in her heart, and didn’t know which to pursue. One for the families which loved Harry Potter, one for the teens who grew up and wanted something more mature. But these were not chocolate and peanut butter – the opposites did not attract.

Sure, we had unexpected highlights, such as the romance between the muggle (or “no-maj”, as we in the states cringingly call them) Jacob and mind-reader Queenie, but it just was a movie that didn’t work in the end….something no greater personified than a brilliant villainous performance from Colin Farrell, turning out to be Johnny Depp in disguise, in a moment that could not have occurred at a worse time.

One would have hoped that this would lead to a lengthier time of consideration and thought, trying to build out a greater story…but alas, a five film franchise, greenlit before the first even hit theaters, is a beast which must be fed.

The end result of the race to film number two – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald hit theaters this weekend, and sadly, it seems not a single lesson was learned here.

The plot, what best I can summarize of it, is as follows:

  • Newt’s banned from traveling Internationally after the events of the first film. Unless, of course, he’s willing to work with the Ministry of Magic to become an Auror and capture/ maybe kill Credence. Yeah, the dude who just studies animals. That’s who they want to handle this.
  • Grindelwald – having broken out of wizard custody in the opening of the film, in one of the cool set pieces spread among the flick – is trying to basically build, well, a wizard alt-right, to take out the awful humans and make pure-blooded wizards the top of the food chain, because he knows that World War II is coming. Not a potential World War II, by the way, the actual one. There’s even a nice shot of the atom bomb.
  • Tina’s a full on Auror now, but she’s apparently dating someone else (to make things awkward for Newt’s crush on her), but she’s obsessed with…finding Credence, I guess?
  • Credence – He’s all emo and stuff because he doesn’t know who his real parents are. He is also dating Nagini. A woman who turns into a giant snake. But not just any snake, nah, she’s Voldemort’s snake. More on that sort of thing later.
  • Leta Lestrange, hinted at in the last film as Newt’s long lost love, is finally in this one, but she’s engaged to Newt’s more attractive and successful brother because reasons, and uh…she’s sad. And evil. And has a dark history involving a dead brother. And such.
  • Queenie and Jacob are back together somehow – hand waved away with Jacob’s obliviation as having only wiped away “bad memories”, and Queenie…uh, gets seduced into Grindelwald’s young Nazi crew, because the ones who want to oppress humans are apparently the way for Queenie and Jacob to get married. (Jacob, for what it’s worth, does not go along with this idea.)
  • Jude Law’s here as Hot Young Dumbledore, showing how awesome Hogwarts is in the 1920’s, and generally being super charismatic.

The story which follows is as stilted and convoluted as the breakdown above. Sure, it’s a gorgeous movie – Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography is out of this world, David Yates (who apparently has decided his career IS wizard films from now on) directs the shit out of it, and the costumes are beautiful – but it’s ultimately hollow, because JK Rowling does the greatest sin any writer can do: she becomes convinced her ideas are great just because they’re related to her ideas.

The end result of the above is as follows – after 2 hours and 15 minutes of gorgeous magic, brilliant CG, and little plot movement (the Hogwarts flashback is cool though), this entire movie is revealed to hold two plot points of weight: Credence – believing that he’s Leta Lestrange’s long-lost/presumed-dead brother, is, as it turns out, Dumbledore’s long-lost/presumed-dead brother. And now I guess Dumbledore and Grindelwald (who are hinted as being lovers in the past in a way so subtle that I’m thinking people uncomfortable with their sexuality just consider them as “Super Good Bros!”) are going to fight in Fantastic Beasts 3: Still Beastin’.

All of the above is only “interesting” because each element somehow ties into Harry Potter ephemera. Everyone is only important because their last names are those which are important. And it all sort of ties back into Harry’s journey. Yeah, I guess it’s about Newt, but he does a lot of standing around…and the onus in the next film doesn’t even involve him being active.

In his 2007 album Werewolves and Lollipops, comedian Patton Oswalt has a track – the brashly titled “At Midnight I Will Kill George Lucas with a Shovel” – where he discusses the greatest sin of the Star Wars prequels. I’ve embedded it below:

As he says here – I don’t need to know why I like the things I like. I don’t need these tales to tell me why I liked Harry Potter. I don’t need them to tie so directly to the world I know. I need them to expand on that world. And two films out of (good lord) five have done nothing but make the world infinitely smaller.

The primary poster for the film (below) has a bizarre tagline: “Who Will Change the Future?”

We already know what the future holds. Dumbledore wins. Voldemort rises. Harry leads the change that ends the dark/light battle for good (for now). There is no change in that future…and unfortunately, after walking out of The Crimes of Grindelwald, there’s no change in the future of moviegoers either.

The Wizarding World has infinite possibilities. This film shows that in the hands of JK Rowling, unfortunately, those possibilities have already been accounted for.

‘I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It.’

Thrillist:

In my office, I have a coffee mug from Stanich’s in Portland, Oregon. Under the restaurant name, it says “Great hamburgers since 1949.” The mug was given to me by Steve Stanich on the day I told him that, after eating 330 burgers during a 30-city search, I was naming Stanich’s cheeseburger the best burger in America. That same day, we filmed a short video to announce my pick. On camera, Stanich cried as he talked about how proud his parents would be. After the shoot, he handed me the mug, visibly moved. “My parents are thanking you from the grave,” he said, shaking my hand vigorously. When I left, I felt light and happy. I’d done a good thing.

Five months later, in a story in The Oregonian, restaurant critic Michael Russell detailed how Stanich’s had been forced to shut down. In the article, Steve Stanich called my burger award a curse, “the worst thing that’s ever happened to us.” He told a story about the country music singer Tim McGraw showing up one day, and not being able to serve him because there was a five hour wait for a burger. On January 2, 2018, Stanich shut down the restaurant for what he called a “two week deep cleaning.” Ten months later, Stanich’s is still closed. Now when I look at the Stanich’s mug in my office, I no longer feel light and happy. I feel like I’ve done a bad thing.

An incredible read about burgers, articles, and the unfortunate affect that publicity can have in this world.

It’s Optimus Prime! It’s a Watch! It’s Awesome!

Engadget:

As leader of the Autobots, you’d think that Optimus Prime would always know what time it is. However, Casio, in collaboration with Transformer toymaker Takara Tomy, Casio has unveiled a special edition Transformer with a G-Shock watch installed right in his heart. The promotion celebrates the 35th anniversary of G-Shock, and the 35th anniversary of the Transformers in 2019, Casio said.

Very cool. That 29,000¥ price tag though, that’s a bit much for my tastes.

Paramount Eyes Chris Pratt to Re-launch…THE SAINT!?!

Deadline:

Paramount Pictures is dancing with Chris Pratt to star in a relaunch of its action franchise The Saint. Sources cautioned this is early days, but that the hope is to build the film around the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World franchise star. Lorenzo di Bonaventura is aboard to produce. Stay tuned.

Does anyone have a strong fondness for The Saint? My vague memory of it is “Val Kilmer wears a wig.” Incorrect?

Jeff Lemire’s SWEET TOOTH Ordered to Pilot by Hulu

Deadline:

Hulu has given a pilot order to Sweet Tooth, a drama based on characters created for DC Vertigo by Jeff Lemire. The project hails from Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey’s Team Downey, Hap and Leonard co-creator Jim Mickle and Warner Bros. TV.

I love this comic. I would’ve never in a million years expected this. I am excited.