Here’s a new thing I’m going to try out. Every now and then instead of a feature I’m going to deliver a short ‘Thoughts on...’ piece concerning something that might be bothering or interesting me currently in the film Zeitgeist, or an upcoming production, or a trend or in a case such as this a piece of marketing material and how it relates to the project(s) as a whole.
In this first instance, today Warner Bros. unveiled the first teaser trailer for their upcoming new instalment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Now the title bothers me just for its disjointed nature anyway, but it’s an easy title chain to link the series that kind of links into a bigger issue I maybe have with this series going forward.
I’m not going to talk about the trailer or its content necessarily in this instance, since it kind of speaks for itself and doesn’t reveal a great amount of information and extrapolation won’t get us anywhere. I’m not going to retread old ground by repeating my overall thoughts on the first film, those were already spelt out in my review. Suffice it to say, I didn’t much care for it overall and have mostly forgotten vast swaths of it when looking back through memory. Instead, I wanted to bring up something very specific that happened during my screening of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them back in 2016, because I feel it kind of speaks volumes about the audience reaction to said film and its eventual twist reveal.
So, one of the very few things that I actually felt worked in the film was the B or C storyline involving the oppression of magical children in the world by religious fundamentalism in a country going through a political shift that is sadly sidelined massively and doesn’t really come to anything. While it didn’t work overall, there was one solitary character in the film that I was intrigued by. Colin Farrell’s Percival Graves; a high-ranking Auror and Director of Magical Security for MACUSA.
Though not the deepest of characters, his position within the plot as a protector of wizards in a hostile environment, his personal strain with his disdain for “Muggles” or “No-Majs” *disgruntled shudder* opened up the possibility for a genuinely interesting villain. One who begins by trying to do the right thing, but is driven to darkness by his own personal beliefs and disenchantment with the way the magical world is being run.
But then, in an 11th-hour twist, its revealed in a moment of frantic panic and minor excitement that Graves is actually Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald in disguise. A famous powerful dark wizard who seeks to lead a new Wizarding Order who was mentioned but unseen earlier in the film.
In a single moment the one single ray of hope and interest that had been sustaining me throughout the film, blinked out of existence and turned into Johnny Depp. A bloated, horribly designed and dressed Johnny Depp. The only comfort of such a tragically dishonest contortion taking place that made his entire supposed character arc void was that the surrounding audience around me let out a sad weary groan at the reveal as well, though I assume not for many of the same reasons.
Despite the domestic abuse allegations that have been following Depp around for some time now, the very sight of him pale makeup and an obscenely stupid hairstyle reminiscent of some of his weakest work with Tim Burton confirmed audibly what people had assumed for a while; audiences are sick to death of Johnny Depp. The added insult is that his forced inclusion into the narrative of this film had come at the cost of sacrificing its most plausibly interesting new character.
Though I was initially excited at the prospect of a prequel series pre-dating the original Potter series with only a loose connection within the same world, and the returning contribution of David Yates as director, the story – or should I say stories – they chose to tell were monotonous slogs and mired by convoluted plotting and structure and a lifelessness to its general look and direction.
What’s more noticeable is the general lack of conversation that developed from it following its release. I haven’t been a part of the Potter crowd for quite some time. I admire the books for getting a generation of children into reading but don’t really think much of them as pieces of writing or even well-constructed narratives or characters. As a cinema fan, I simply feel more inclined to enjoy the cinematic sweep of the more streamlined adaptations for all their worth.
But unlike those feeling like a cornerstone and a monolithic undertaking that even in an age of cinematic universes is quite unbelievable that it was able to happen in full, nobody I know of who even likes the Potter series let alone loves them talk about that first film in any capacity. Not the characters, not the setting and especially not the stories. The only items of conversation that do come up (if any) regard lore, and lore is becoming an increasingly boggy hill for this multimedia series to die on considering the wavering talents of J. K. Rowling as a writer, evidenced in both her lacklustre screenplay for the film and the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Fan-fic.
Even though it’s still early days for a new series that for some insane reason is going to consist of FIVE INSTALMENTS, and even though Jude Law looks like he makes a good Dumbledore (as expected), there is nothing about this that appeals to me and I don’t understand what the goal of any of it is beyond pure cash profit. There seems to be no indication of the grand narrative going forward or where it might even be going, even though the Potter series similarly started similarly as relatively unconnected stories. There's even the new 'Wizarding World' attached to the opening logos, which seems to solidify its intent to be recognised as a player in the stadium of cinematic universes, which immediately makes me want to vomit on sight.
I’ll still keep an open mind, but I don’t feel like I have the effort to go through this in a world that doesn’t look nice, that doesn’t feel welcoming, and with characters that I have no interest in following. Especially not someone as underplayed and uninteresting as Newt “I’m totally not Doctor Who” Scamander.