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February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Wizards aren’t Always Right: A ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’ Review

The only thing more dangerous than fascism is wizard-fascism. That’s right, the ignorant and violent political ideology which claims to save a nation through the brutal oppression of a scapegoated race now has behind it the powers of magic, posing a serious threat to all muggles and mud-bloods across Europe and North America. One might think that the evil in such a movement should be easy enough to recognize, but, unfortunately, all the wizards who haven’t read “Beowulf” don’t yet know not to trust anyone named “Grindelwald,” and are now gathering in support of a movement that can only end in the death of Europe.

Fortunately, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), with the support of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), has come to save us from the villainy of Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). But to do so, Newt must first travel with his muggle friend Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) all the way to Paris, where they’ll meet up with Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an agent of the American Ministry of Magic. With all persons in place, the team can now begin their search for Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a dangerous magic-man looking for his true parentage, and the object of Grindelwald’s desire.

Such is the set up in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald,” the second entry in the “Harry Potter” prequel series, directed by David Yates, and written by the woman herself: J.K. Rowling. It’s good, I guess. The film starts out very strong, taking time to delve into the characters’ relationships with each other, providing everyone with strong emotional reasons to embark on their adventure, without relying so much on plot contrivances. Tina is off to find Credence and fight evil, but Newt—who is uncomfortably content not worrying about Grindelwald—really just wants to find Tina and clarify that he does indeed *like* her, while Jacob wants to apologize to his lover Queenie (Alison Sudol), who ran off to find Tina, her sister, after she and Jacob got in a fight.

This spiderweb of touched-nerves between the characters provides a much more interesting bedrock for the story than if Rowling had taken the easier rout of sending all the good guys in to fight all the bad guys. At the outset, the villains are much more organized than the heroes, who are all a little too pissed at each other to get much of anything done. This works so well because it allows for easy, yet important, moments of satisfaction as each character individually takes arms against the true foes.

I just wish that the rest of the film was as well maneuvered as this one bit. For the first three quarters of the run-time everything does go quite smoothly, but then—seemingly out of nowhere—Rowling remembered that she had to write a conclusion for this damn movie, and things start just happening for no reason. Magic blankets that tell the wizard-fascists where to meet each other start falling on the city. Newt randomly tells Tina about a box in the ministry of magic which happens to hold the answer to the mystery. An old man pulls a crystal ball out from nowhere, which decides to tell Jacob where to go so he can happen to bump into everyone else. I feel I can’t spoil any surprises by telling you these things, because their passing is so sudden that I guarantee you’ll still be surprised. The climax of the story does begin to pick itself up after this rocky patch, though the final revelation is handled in the most unsatisfactory manner.

Returning to the positives: I thought that the political semi-allegory in Yates’ picture was, for a blockbuster like this, pretty good. The wizard-fascists were real fascists, unlike “Star Wars,” where the aesthetic of Nazi Germany is imported without the actual political ideology. The racist construction of Grindelwald’s movement was on full display, especially in the climactic scene when Grindelwald stands in front of a crowd and explains, in broad terms, his plans for the muggle race. The manner in which he talks about separate yet equal peoples, while dog-whistling an ethnic cleansing, is reminiscent of the alt-right movement we’ve seen in our own country. Tied into this was a side story detailing one wizard’s indoctrination into the evil faction, which I thought was a largely spot-on depiction of the process by which fascism grabs a hold of seemingly non-prejudiced people. The Ministry of Magic can feel like a cold bureaucratic organization hellbent on upholding arbitrary rules no one is allowed to question; Grindelwald, on the other hand, is charismatic, playing on people’s fears and frustrations, identifying a few real problems with the system, while proposing a solution which his followers don’t realize is far, far worse.

This is not to say that “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a masterpiece of contemporary political criticism. It’s no “Sorry to Bother You.” Many films borrow from past and present issues to structure their stories and worlds, signify the good and the bad, and I just think it’s noteworthy when one does this so markedly better than others. At the end of the film, Newt sees the true scale of the coming conflict, and realizes that he must take a side in the growing conflict, must know where he stands before facing the onslaught of announced sequels. When you strip away the silly, albeit fun, elements of the movie, this is an important and powerful message. Regardless of the conflict, when something becomes dire enough, everyone has to take their stand; and in today’s world, we have no shortage of dire conflicts to side in. The story may fluctuate betwixt satisfying and shabby, but the themes and messages always work. This is what you should see this movie for.

Also, the effects are pretty, and 1920s magical Paris is always fun to look at.