See It Instead: Fantastic Beasts – The Crimes of Grindelwald
Advance reviews combined with the inclusion of notorious creep Johnny Depp have left me Expecto-ing some magical garbage when it comes to Fantastic Beasts 2. We conjure up some other flicks that don’t cast Crucio on the audience.
Oh, the Potter-verse. Imaginative, wildly uneven, and frequently ret-conned. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald is the latest entry into the prequels about a wizarding world yet to be saved by The Boy Who Lived. It hasn’t exactly been setting the critics on fire, so I’m pretty meh on it. That said, I have a family member who is very much into the Harry Potter franchise (and I liked the books to be honest, long ass camping trips aside), so I’m going to summon up my courage and watch the film. At a matinee, preferably for free (Sinemia, step yo game UP). If you’d rather throw yourself on the tracks of Platform 9 & 3/4 than watch this film, here are some wizarding films our sorting hat gave us.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)
Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp, taking time off from drinking a small country’s GDP in wine) has escaped, and Albus Dumbeldore (Jude Law) has tasked Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) with bringing him in. Along the way, Newt recruits his no-maj bestie, Jacob (Dan Fogle), who apparently has his memory back. They must beat Grindewald in a race to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who apparently got his “not being definitely dead” back.
Jesus Tap-Dancing Christ J.K. Rowling, you retconned the two major points of your last movie! Retroactively giving your characters a diversity-polyjuice potion is one thing, but you’re really mucking up your own universe. Ask George Lucas how that turns out.
The Serious Pick: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is in New York, looking for a way to repatriate one of his fantastic beasts. He quickly runs afoul of America’s wizarding community, losing his menagerie of creatures along the way. While Newt scrambles to mitigate the damage of his troublesome tikes, a congregation of anti-magic zealots threaten to expose the wizarding world.
The first of the prequels, Fantastic Beasts is better than average. It has some definite slog to it, as it has a whole new wizarding world to introduce (this one shows us how America got it’s magic on in the 20’s). It also has a less than captivating lead in Eddie Redmayne, who spends most of the movie looking mildly amused or mildly confused. What really saves this film is it’s supporting cast, notably Dan Fogle and Alison Sudol.
Fogle plays Jacob Kowalski, a simple no-maj (aka muggle; aka normal dude) with dreams of starting a bakery. He’s our window into the world, and thankfully he’s warm, funny, and inviting. Alison Sudol plays Queenie, a magical flapper whose magical gifts make her deeply empathic. She’s charm cranked up to 11, with a smile that could guide ships in on a foggy day. The duo add heart and a grounding presence to a film that wants to flit around as quickly as it can between fantastical set-pieces.
To be fair, the set pieces are pretty fantastic. Once the world building has been accomplished, we get to the real good stuff: the beasts of a fantastic nature. The CGI is good, the beasts are varied and delightful, and the task of re-capturing them does a ton of good towards making Newt sympathetic.
On the whole, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is very Harry Potter: charming yet wildly uneven.
The Lighthearted Pick: Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Hayao Miyazaki spins a delightful yarn about a very eccentric wizard, and the woman who has to pick up after him. Sophie is a young girl trapped in an old woman’s body. Luckily for her, she encounters Howl, a brilliant but infuriatingly aloof wizard. Unluckily for her, Howl is busy trying to not get conscripted into a massive war.
This film is a delight, and a better version of Fantastic Beasts in just about every regard. It’s an allegory for America’s invasion of Iraq, and creates a world where magic and industry uneasily co-exist. It’s sense of place is even stronger than Beasts’ 1920’s America, and it isn’t even real! Howl is just as self-absorbed as Newt, but has more depth and personality. And Sophie is both Jacob and Queenie in one; both patient and charming, as well as exasperatingly out of her depth.
The wonders on display in Howl’s Moving Castle rival any Obscurus. Studio Ghibli works in delightful absurdity in a manner only rivaled by Jim Henson. From fireplace demons to the eponymous Moving Castle, the tale is fully (and funnily) ensorcelled. So rest your old bones by the nearest TV and take a ride that is both fantastic and fantastically deep.
The Unconventional Pick: The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland (1987)
Listen: we’re just about out of movies with wizards in them here at Deluxe Video Online. I wanted to compare Newt’s “I’m so smart that I constantly rush around leaving everyone confused” shtick to the near-omniscient Merlin, who constantly lacked the time or patience to deal with Arthur and his bumbling wards. Oh. We’ve already done The Sword in the Stone. Ok. How about the “preternaturally gifted autistic”, another trope that Newt constantly flirts with? Crap. We’ve done The Wizard too?
So here we are. The third theatrical Care Bears movie. It made about no noise (and even less money) upon release in America, but it has a wizard in it. So there.
In this tale, The Care Bears team up with The Care Bear Cousins to help an ordinary girl usurp the throne of Wonderland from a mean wizard. Her qualifications? She’s named Alice, and since the real Alice is missing, apparently any old Alice will do. Of course it will fool their adversary, this is a man who employs henchmen by the names of Dim and Dumb.
I’m not saying The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland is any good. I’m just saying I needed a third film with wizards in it, and we’ve picked this tree clean.