A not so Fantastic opening weekend
Today, not having seen a Harry Potter film is a marker of peculiarity. The Potter universe stands as one of the largest and most successful series to make it to the big screen and seems to be becoming more popular every year. But the new Fantastic Beasts series, set as a precursor to the eponymous events at Hogwarts, has failed to achieve equal praise.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was nothing special, its main selling point being that it inhabits the same world as, albeit long before, Harry Potter. This year, the follow-up, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, received the worst opening Box Office weekend of all the Harry Potter films. The film has proceeded to make money but not on the intended scale with the gross income for the film in America standing at $136,693,343 on 4th December (its estimated budget was $200,000,000).
However, The Crimes of Grindelwald is not a flop. It has made a global profit and the next instalment in the series is still going to be made. Yet the mellow reception to the film cannot be overlooked.
Personally, The Crimes of Grindelwald just simply wasn’t a good film. It side-lined Newt, the most interesting character established in the first film, and Grindelwald, the central villain, did very little indeed over the total runtime.
The hunt for Credence Barebones’ identity was central to the action but began to drag on, and realistically, the events of the film could easily have been condensed into an hour. Maybe this is the fundamental issue with the Fantastic Beasts series, J.K.Rowling has predetermined the fact that the series will extend to 5 films, forcing her to draw out the story.
Yet the series is faced with other issues. Tone is key, yet the two Fantastic Beasts films have differed greatly in this respect, with the second being considerably darker. This disparity seems to imply that the whole project is a money grab, rather than a passion project. Yet to dismiss the series completely in this way may be a bit harsh.
Rowling has made an active attempt to expand the wizarding world beyond the confines of Hogwarts, moving her story back to 1927 Paris. She hasn’t relied purely upon characters from the Potter universe, introducing new characters like Newt and Grindelwald who promise to enhance the developing story. And even the familiar face of Dumbledore, introduced as connection tissue to the Harry Potter films, has been enhanced through his implied relationship with Grindelwald.
Extending a film universe is not unusual, as evidenced by The Hobbit trilogy within The Lord of the Rings and the ever-growing number of Star Wars films. Both multiverses introduced prequels that directly impacted their original trilogies, yet it is unlikely that Fantastic Beasts will do the same. This seems to imply that the Fantastic Beasts movies aren’t as necessary from a storytelling perspective.
Furthermore, The Potter world is so enclosed that opening it up just doesn’t feel right. While the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars have realms and planets to explore, Harry Potter has a school. When the wizarding events are transposed to Paris or New York as they are in The Crime of Grindelwald, it just doesn’t feel the same. Ironically, by forcing these prequels you begin to lose the magic.
After eight Harry Potter films, the wizarding world is beginning to feel a bit saturated with content. At the end of The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Harry Potter had defeated Voldemort, finished school and subsequently married Ginny (spoilers). The tale of Harry Potter was complete. The wizarding world and Rowling should have finished there.
Nostalgia seems to be the main calling card for the Fantastic Beasts series with the return to Hogwarts serving as a large selling point for The Crimes of Grindelwald. Yet, for all its issues, the series will continue and so one can only hope that the next instalments will improve upon what has come before.