Film review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, November 30th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham reviews Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The film released earlier this month.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: It’s a curious thing about the latest Harry Potter-related movie, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: Until the last 15 minutes, the eponymous character hasn’t personally committed much in the way of crimes. Come to think of it, we’re never particularly clear on what heinous crimes from the first movie landed Grindelwald at the very top of the Most Dangerous Dark Wizards of All Time list in the second movie. But the fact that his so-called “silver” tongue has been cut out seems to offer a clue.

AUDIO: My brothers, my sisters, the clock is ticking faster. My dream, we who live for truth, for love, the moment has come to take our rightful place in the world where we wizards were free. Join me or die.

In some ways, The Crimes of Grindelwald (rated PG-13 for a half-clad statue and scary action) is the perfect big-budget fantasy movie for our thought-policing times. We’re to take it on faith that Gellert Grindelwald (played by Johnny Depp) will commit some horrendous acts in the future. But for the most part, all he has done to land himself in the maximum security Ministry of Magic cell we find him in at the beginning of this story is a bit of Auror impersonating. Oh, and he’s given some speeches. Speeches so dangerous, they appear to be the main threat he poses. Even the ostensibly freethinking Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) agrees that the best way to combat the persuasive-powers of his ambiguously close childhood friend is physical defeat and suppression as opposed to more and better-reasoned speech.

AUDIO: The wizarding and non-wizarding worlds have been at peace for over a century. Grindelwald wants to see that peace destroyed. You want me to hunt him down, to kill him. Dumbledore, why can’t you go? I cannot move against Grindelwald. It has to be you.

To be fair, there are some vestiges of classically liberal thought in Dumbledore’s caution to the Ministry of Magic that to treat Grindelwald’s followers too harshly is to drive them toward his extremism. But the notion that the simple-minded masses must be protected by their betters from rhetoric they lack the intellectual capacity to sift is nearly as offensive as the idea that wizards have a natural right to rule muggles “for the greater good.” If cutting out tongues to prevent them uttering things we don’t like is the standard, exactly who are the bigger villains here?

It’s not that the movie fails on all levels. Rowling and director David Yates, along with their likeable cast, are too talented for that. There are still witty parallels between the wizarding reality and ours, and though he’s criminally underused, Dan Fogler as muggle baker Jacob Kowalski never fails to get a chuckle whenever he’s on screen.

But on one significant level it fails spectacularly: plot. While I’d be the first to cheer the fact that Crimes of Grindelwald drops the Puritan-bashing of the previous film, it goes one further and drops everything else along with it.

Like a low-rent soap opera, characters we saw die are miraculously resuscitated with little explanation. Others whose histories are well-established are suddenly rewritten to accommodate additions that can’t possibly fit into previous timelines. Worst of all is that everything that occurs for a good hour-and-a-half of the two-hour run time turns out not to have mattered much at all.

What we’re left with is a pretty parable that whispers to the young that it is sometimes right to silence bad ideas by force. I combat it not by confronting Rowling and Yates in the street and demanding they not be allowed to make films but by coming here to tell you about it.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.

(Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP) This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Eddie Redmayne in a scene from “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.” 

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