Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Impressions

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is finally here, and it’s yet another jewel in the crown that is the Nintendo Switch. Although it may be premature of me to say this, given I haven’t tried out all of its modes yet, but Ultimate may very well be the best Super Smash Bros. title yet.

Like any sequel to a multiplayer title, the gameplay hasn’t exactly changed much, but something about it definitely feels smoother. It just feels right to control. It’s hard to explain, but it seems like every returning character I’ve tried feels more fluid to control than they did in past games, and the newcomers are just as smooth. The gameplay may be the series’ trademark “sumo rules” take on the fighting genre, but it just feels so polished.

Another big improvement over past games is the Classic Mode. As much as I appreciate Super Smash Bros for 3DS/Wii U trying to make Classic Mode into something bigger, it never really enticed me to try it out with every character. But here in Ultimate, I find myself wanting to complete Classic Mode with every new character I unlock. The beauty lies in its simplicity, as Classic Mode sees each character go through six fights, a bonus stage and a boss enemy, with each character’s opponents being vague (or literal) little callbacks to their own games.

For example, Ryu’s version utilizes stamina rules to reflecting the traditional fighter nature of Street Fighter. Meanwhile, Mega Man’s journey ends with a battle against Dr. Mario who, once defeated, becomes Mewtwo, subtly referencing the final fight against Dr. Wily in Mega Man 2). And in perhaps my favorite example, Dr. Mario’s fights are against triple opponents, with each bearing a red, blue and yellow color scheme in reference to the viruses from the classic puzzler. It’s just simple, fun and addictive.

Admittedly, the Adventure Mode, dubbed ‘World of Light’ is one I have yet to play. I’ll get around to it, but honestly, Brawl’s Supspace Emisary story mode was kind of a glorified means of unlocking every character. So I’m not exactly rushing into the story mode when everything else is already so much fun. So no opinions on World of Light for now.

Much to my pleasant surprise, it was actually really easy to play against my friends online! I know, that seems shocking considering this is a Nintendo game that isn’t Mario Kart, but playing against friends is actually accessible. That alone gets huge brownie points from me. I also haven’t experienced any lag issues when playing against opponents on a broader online scale, so that’s also an improvement from its predecessors. I have heard some people say the specific searches for quick online matches aren’t very accurate (one-on-one proponents experiencing repeated multi-man matches and such), but I haven’t tried that myself yet so I can’t comment. But the sheer easiness of playing against friends alone feels like a godsend, given all the hoops you usually have to jump through for such features in Nintendo games (I’m looking your way, Splatoon 2).

Then, of course, we have the characters. The title’s main selling point is that every past fighter from Super Smash Bros’ history is present. And with a small batch of newcomers, as well as ‘echo fighters’ we have about 70 characters (depending on how you count Pokemon Trainer). That’s a pretty hefty lineup of characters. And while the roster isn’t perfect (Geno isn’t in it), there really is such a wide variety of characters that, no matter what your play style is, you’re bound to find multiple characters you like. I personally have quickly become a King K. Rool man (hey, if Super Mario RPG isn’t represented, I’m going with my other favorite SNES title, DKC2).

All in all, I find myself having trouble putting Super Smash Bros. Ultimate down. In a weird way, it doesn’t feel quite as “massive” as the past few entries in terms of what it adds compared to what came before, but it does feel better. It takes the best bits and pieces of past Super Smash Bros. games and makes something that feels like one of those ‘special’ Nintendo releases on par with Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey.

But seriously, can we please get Geno?

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My Thoughts on Persona 5’s Joker in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is finally out (and it’s pretty great). A day before its release though, it was revealed that the first of the five upcoming DLC characters for Nintendo’s brawler is none other than the protagonist of Persona 5, Joker.

*And yes, I am aware that by internet standards this news is old by now. But guess who doesn’t care and is going to write their thoughts about it anyway….. Me, obviously. I can’t very well write other people’s thoughts.*

To sum up my feelings about Joker being added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, I direct you to this classic prequel meme.

Now, I’m not going to pretend like I’m a major fan of Persona who knows the series by heart. Persona 5 is, thus far, the only Persona game I’ve actually played. And even then, I didn’t get very far as I was intimidated by the game’s sheer length (though I guess I really have no excuse for not going back to it now that I’ve trudged through the campaign of Red Dead Redemption 2. I’ll get back to it). However, Joker’s addition to Super Smash Bros. not only showcases how far Persona has come as a franchise, but also can give Smash Bros. fans a collective sigh of relief, as all our concerns over the fact that Nintendo chose all the DLC characters were maybe a bit misplaced. That is, assuming Joker isn’t a one-off and the rest of the DLC characters don’t end up middle finger-y towards fans in the same vein as Piranha Plant (yes, I’m still salty about that).

Not only are third-party characters still in the cards, but so are fresh character ideas that are unexpected and different. Granted, I still (obviously) expect some of these DLC characters to be from Nintendo franchises (why wouldn’t they be?), but it’s kind of nice that the first one announced is so promising, and not just another random Pokemon or Marth clone. Maybe we can finally get Dixie Kong as an expected (and well overdue) character, and then get a bunch of surprises for the rest of the DLC (because, honestly, aside from Dixie, what major recurring Nintendo character isn’t in Smash already?).

Basically, Joker’s presence in Super Smash Bros. – like Snake’s all those years ago – opens the door to seemingly anyone. Especially seeing as Persona 5 isn’t on Switch (though I assume that his inclusion could mean a port is in the future), it feels like all the gloves are off. And that’s awesome.

Most importantly, let’s hope this means we can finally get Geno.

The Grinch Review

Of the many works of Dr. Seuss, the most iconic has to be How the Grinch Stole Christmas (sorry, Cat in the Hat). Not only is it the most famous of Dr. Seuss’ books, but in American culture it has become synonymous with the Christmas holiday. Its 1966 television adaptation has become a tradition of the holiday season, and the titular character – despite being a curmudgeon who disdains the merry holiday – has become almost as associated with Christmas as Santa Claus himself. This 2018 animated film by Illumination is the second feature length, theatrical adaptation of the classic tale, following the 2000 live-action film starring Jim Carrey (which, despite its muddy critical reception, has become a nostalgic favorite for many, myself included). How well does Illumination’s take on Dr. Seuss’ classic stack up against its predecessors?

Well, in short, it’s a pretty good adaptation. But it’s also an incredibly safe one, as it doesn’t really add anything new to the timeless tale. The key ingredients remain the same: The Grinch is a lonesome creature who despises Christmas. He lives on Mt. Crumpit with the only creature who could love a curmudgeon like himself, his dog. The Grinch’s ire for Christmas is magnified by the fact that his mountain home looks down on Whoville, a happy town obsessed with Christmas. Tired of hearing the joy of others below him, the Grinch sets out to ‘steal Christmas’ by dressing as jolly old Saint Nick and stealing every last present and decoration in Whoville.

The plot is simple and timeless, so a direct retelling isn’t any unforgivable sin, but it does mean that Illumination’s film does suffer a bit from a lack of its own identity. There is, however, one notable change that clashes with the message of the story.

In Dr. Seuss’ original book and the TV special, the Grinch is simply a cold-hearted individual, unable to love anything but his dog. His reasons for hating Christmas never needed a backstory, but it’s implied that he sees Christmas as a shallow celebration of gifts and loud noise. But the Illumination film, like the 2000 live-action Jim Carrey vehicle, gives the Grinch a backstory to justify his grouchy disposition. It’s understandable that the filmmakers would want to flesh out the story a bit to justify its presence as a feature film, but there’s something about this Grinch origin story that feels misplaced.

In the 2000 film, it was being bullied by the kids of Whoville that lead to the Grinch’s self-imposed exile. And since Whoville loved Christmas, he loathed it. Although its execution didn’t always work (he’s upset because kids made fun of him for cutting himself shaving? Really?), it still made sense given the narrative was that his anger and disdain were misplaced by being targeted at Christmas. But here in the Illumination film, the Grinch (voiced brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch) was an orphan who grew up alone. His loneliness is no fault of his own in this depiction, and so his anger and frustration with the Whos and Christmas comes across as more of inner confusion and insecurity than it does a man who has grown bitter. So this version of the Grinch doesn’t really seem to have a heart that’s two sizes too small (even though that iconic element remains). He’s more sad and in need of a hug than he is bitter and in need of a change of heart.

So the Grinch’s backstory is a little misplaced, given the message of the original story that carries over here. Still, the film is a lot of fun. Illumination has never been a heavy hitter with animated storytelling in the ways that Pixar or Disney are, but they do excel and delivering high energy cartoon antics. And that’s as true here as ever.

The many gadgets and gizmos the Grinch utilizes to carry out his Christmas-stealing schemes are fun to see in action, and the characters frequently lead to some zany comedy. And in typical Illumination fashion, the animation is colorful and lively. For an animation studio that’s known for making ‘smaller’ films in terms of budget and recourses when compared to other animation studios, you’d never know it with how fun their films are to look at. The Grinch just oozes a visual charm that captures the Dr. Seuss look in a way the live-action film simply couldn’t.

Like in the live-action feature, Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) is promoted to a main character, who is determined to ‘trap’ Santa so she can ask him for something too important to be written in a letter, to help her mom be happy. And Whoville now houses a man named Bricklebaum (Kenan Thompson), who is not only the antithesis of the Grinch (always jolly, loves Christmas), but also the closest thing the Grinch has to a neighbor, as his house sits at the foot of Mt. Crumpit. Cindy Lou helps add a bit of heart to the film, while Bricklebaum provides some of the biggest laughs.

One of the film’s biggest highlights is Benedict Cumberbatch’s aforementioned voice work as the Grinch. Big name celebrities often phone-in vocal work for animation, and seem like little more than a means to help advertise the film. But Benedict Cumberbatch goes all out by creating a ‘Grinch voice’ that’s unrecognizable as the actor. To have a big name actor care that much for voiceover work is always welcome.

Illumination’s The Grinch may not quite capture the purity of Dr. Seuss’ original book or the classic TV special, and the Grinch’s new backstory may somewhat contradict his supposed status as a curmudgeon, but it’s still a fun take on the iconic tale that should delight younger audiences, and maybe even some older ones as well.

 

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Mirai Review

Mirai, the latest animated feature from Mamoru Hosoda, is one of those movies that combines the simple joys of life with the fantastic and surreal. While Hosoda’s last film, The Boy and the Beast, was a delight in its own right, its later half seemed to fluctuate with what kind of story it wanted to tell, with its wonderful monster world being largely forgotten for a lengthy stretch of time, and a final battle that felt like it was from another movie. By comparison, Mirai feels a lot more focused and consistently true to itself. And while Mirai may suffer from an occasional slump in pacing, it ultimately provides one of the most charming anime films in years, and one of the best films of 2018.

Mirai tells the simple but timeless story of a young boy growing jealous of all the love and attention his new baby sister receives from his parents. The boy is Kun, a rosy-cheeked child who loves to play with his dog Yukko and has a strong interest in bullet trains, with toy models of them strewn about his room. His newborn sister is Mirai who, like all newborns, understandably starts taking more and more of their parents’ attention. Of course Kun, being a young boy, doesn’t quite understand the situation, and only knows that he’s getting less attention from his parents.

This, of course, means that Mirai is a story about Kun becoming a more responsible and loving big brother. As stated, it’s a tried-and-true, though timeless, storyline. But Mirai is able to make a unique identity for itself by the ways it tells its story.

The film does a fantastic job at telling its story through a child’s perspective. For example, the only named characters are Fun, Mirai and their dog Yukko. The parents are only ever referred to as ‘Mom and Dad,’ even in the end credits. And the remaining characters consist of Grandma and Great Grandpa. Mirai puts audiences firmly in the children’s viewpoint, which really adds to how the film turns rather simple, mundane events into something fantastic.

Mirai features a number of fantasy elements, which may be real or simply creations of Kun’s imagination. The most notable being that Kun meets up with an older Mirai from the future, who needs Kun’s help in a few different instances, as she can’t directly affect moments from her past. Fun also meets a human version of Yukko, a child version of his mother, and his recently deceased great-grandfather during his younger days. As stated, whether these elements are literal or allegorical is up for interpretation, but they do all have a common thread.

The house in which Kun and his family live is as much a character as any of the humans (or the dog) in the film. Built by Kun’s now stay-at-home architect father, the house of the film – much like the house in anime classic My Neighbor Totoro – is one of those places from the movies that really stands out, and you’ll vividly remember. A doorway leads to a stairway leads to a garden leads to the house which, in itself, is a series of small rooms on top of each other like a staircase. But it’s whenever Kun exits the house and into the garden that the seemingly supernatural elements take place. There’s never a reason given why this happens, which always feels infinitely refreshing in this day and age when movies feel like they want to hand deliver an explanation for everything to the audience.

Mirai mostly plays out like a series of episodes, each one bringing a different otherworldly occurrence to Kun, and each helping him grow and learn his role as a big brother (even when his baby sister from the future is older than he is). On the downside, some of these ‘episodes’ can drag on a bit. This isn’t too noticeable at first, but when you realize that the future version of Mirai isn’t in the film all that much, it does feel like a little bit of potential is missed in the film’s most unique element to its core brother-sister relationship.

The inconsistent pacing is a small price to pay, however, for how charming and sweet Mirai ultimately is. The characters are believable and easy to sympathize with (again, Kun is just a small boy, so his jealousy for his baby sister never comes across as petty, just a confused child who doesn’t understand the change around him). And as stated, it’s unique to see him interact with a future version of his sister, as the older Mirai appropriately reacts to Kun as someone she’s known for many years, while also remembering she’s speaking to a child version of her older brother. It’s the same kind of topsy-turvy take on familiar relationships that made Your Name feel so unique.

Much like Hosoda’s previous work, Mirai is an absolute marvel in the visual department. Featuring some of the most fluid animation in years, as well as some of the most charming character designs, Mirai is instantly pleasing to the eyes. And it only grows into more and more of a visual spectacle as it goes, and Kun finds himself in even more otherworldly encounters. While the CG wonderlands we’ve grown accustomed to in animation are also eye-striking, there’s an ethereal element to traditional, hand-drawn animation that just feels so mesmerizing – maybe even uplifting – to look at. It’s great to see the world of anime keep traditional animation alive, and Mirai is among the best looking ones.

Although animation in the west is often stigmatized as exclusively child’s fare, it really is a medium that can present stories for any audience. And films like Mirai sum that up on their own. Mirai is simple, sweet and cute enough to delight children. But it’s also complex and deep enough to hold any adult’s interest. Mirai is simply a wonderful movie.

 

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Pokemon the Movie: The Power of Us Review

The Power of Us marks the twenty-first Pokemon movie, and the second in this rebooted continuity of Pokemon movies, following Pokemon the Movie: I Choose You. While I Choose You served as a retelling of the beloved first season of the Pokemon anime, The Power of Us can feel like a spiritual remake of Pokemon the Movie 2000 (known in Japan as The Power of One, which makes the connection between films all the more apparent). Like I Choose You before it, The Power of Us has more than its share of narrative bumps, but if you’re a fan of Pokemon, it will leave you with a good feeling by the time it’s done.

As stated, the movie seems to be something of an homage to Pokemon the Movie 2000, as it features Ash Ketchum traveling to a new town celebrating a festival in honor of the legendary Pokemon Lugia. But whereas its predecessor was a direct remake of the series’ earliest episodes, The Power of Us does create a distinct identity from Pokemon 2000.

As was the case with I Choose You, this continuity only sees Ash Ketchum and Team Rocket Members Jessie and James as the only returning human characters from the series (of course Pikachu is back, as well as Meowth).  The story takes place in Fula City, which is about to have its annual festival celebrating Lugia. But a sacred flame – which serves as a beacon to summon Lugia – ends up missing, which marks the beginning of things going awry for the festival. As more and more things start to go wrong, Ash finds himself helping various citizens of Fula city with different hardships.

“Risa is best girl.”

If there’s one aspect of the story that proves really entertaining, it’s how The Power of Us creates a fun community of characters within Fula City: Margo is the daughter of the city’s mayor, and is secretly friends with the mysterious Pokemon Zeraora. Risa is a Pokemon novice and former athletic runner who has lost her confidence. Toren is a scientist with severe social phobia. Harriet is a cranky old woman who dislikes Pokemon. And the film’s best original character, Callahan, is a compulsive liar who just wants to impress his young niece. The Power of Us serves more of a story about Fula City and its citizens than it is a traditional Pokemon story. Ash doesn’t even seem like the main character for much of the film, playing more of an Obi-Wan Kenobi role and helping people like Margo and Risa with their problems.

For the most part, the movie plays like small episodes focusing on different character stories, and how they eventually come together, than it is a story about legendary Pokemon, which is a nice change of pace for a Pokemon movie (though on the downside, this means that Lugia – my favorite legendary Pokemon – is barely featured in the movie, more or less being built up through the whole thing for a small appearance at the end like Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens). It’s refreshing to have a Pokemon story that doesn’t really have any villain or epic battle, and is instead about the daily lives of people in the Pokemon world.

Unfortunately, the film does hit some notable bumps in the road. Although the movie doesn’t revolve around a villain as previously stated, a duo of Pokemon poachers are introduced in a brief second, only to have a lackluster payoff of being featured in a single scene. Why even add them into the picture when those extra minutes could have been spent with characters who actually feel like part of the story?

Even bigger issues ensue with elements to the characters’ different stories that often feel underdeveloped and rushed. A brief moment sees Callahan’s niece taken to a hospital, to which Callahan explains that she’s “always lacked energy.” And then it’s never really mentioned again and the girl is fine. Meanwhile, Harriet’s disliking of Pokemon is resolved immediately after she explains her reasons for it.

Granted, no one is expecting Pixar levels of storytelling with a Pokemon movie or anything, but it’s still a shame to see a number of elements in otherwise charming stories get shortchanged (just like in I Choose You, Team Rocket seems to only show up out of obligation, as they’re always in the background of the story). With that said though, the aforementioned nature of the movie being a movie about different people in the Pokemon world is pretty refreshing, the characters ultimately win us over, and it has a nice message about helping others in need. Plus, you get to see all kinds of Pokemon both new and old, and who doesn’t love Pokemon?

On top of all that, the film is also one of the best looking Pokemon movies, with unique character designs that are a notable improvement over the forgettable ones in I Choose You, and fluid animation that is among the best the franchise has ever seen. The only downside are some notably aged CG background characters, but that’s a small price to pay for what ultimately is a lively and colorful animated feature.

Pokemon the Movie: The Power of Us may not be a technically great movie with all the shorthanded subplots, but it still has the franchise’s unique charm intact. And as commercial as Pokemon is, the series has always had a genuine heart about it, and that’s as true here as ever. If you’re a fan of Pokemon, it should put a smile on your face.

 

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RIP Stephen Hillenburg

Yet another tragic loss in the entertainment world this week. Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Spongebob Squarepants – one of the most beloved pop culture icons of all-time – has passed away at age 56.

With all due respect to The Simpsons and South Park, Spongebob Squarepants may just be the most influential television cartoon of all time. While The Simpsons changed up both primetime and television animation, and South Park continues to push the envelope, one could easily claim that Spongebob Squarepants has shaped the sense of humor of an entire generation. The show’s lighthearted absurdity has permeated all facets of popular culture, and anyone, anyone from my generation can instantly recognize even a passing reference to a joke from the show’s heyday.

I don’t think Stephen Hillenburg – or anyone else – could have imagined that nearly twenty years later, his creation would still be going strong. Although the quality of Spongebob Squarepants has fluctuated over the last decade (after Stephen Hillenburg took on a smaller role in production), its classic episodes are as timeless and hilarious as television gets. Its endearing characters and sharp wit have etched its place in television history.

Everyone and their grandmother knows of Spongebob’s antics with best friend Patrick, and how they constantly get on the nerves of their pretentious neighbor Squidward (whom both Spongebob and Patrick naively idolize). Everyone knows of Mr. Krabs’ insatiable lust for money, and how the sacred Krabby Patty secret formula is the target of the “evil” Plankton’s many failed thefts. People can quote Spongebob’s many songs word for word, and the show as a whole has delighted children of all ages for over two decades. And everyone who grew up with it, and continues to grow up with it, will make sure it continues to do so forever more.

Thank you Stephen Hillenburg, for bringing so much joy and laughter to the world.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

In more recent years, with what was previously deemed as the “nerd side” of popular culture more or less becoming one with pop culture itself, it seems more and more properties are putting a higher emphasis on world-building, in the vein of Tolkien or George Lucas. On one hand, this is a great thing, as it’s always enjoyable to see a fantasy world create a backstory for itself and its characters. But I have recently began to worry that too many works are prioritizing world-building over actual storytelling. One reason I love the Star Wars sequel trilogy is that it bucks this trend, introducing elements such as The First Order in passing without detailing how and why they came to power, and letting the story at hand take center stage. By contrast, it seems that the Harry Potter prequel franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, goes in the exact opposite direction of the Star Wars sequels, with its own narrative being drowned in backstories and lore. While the first Fantastic Beasts at least introduced us to some potentially charming franchise players, its sequel – the bizarrely titled The Crimes of Grindelwald – feels like it completely surrenders its own identity for the sake of world-building.

Like the first film, the screenplay is written by J.K. Rowling herself. Though Rowling seems to handle the material as if she’s writing the appendices of one of her books, as opposed to a screenplay. This is a film that squanders so much potential with its characters, as it feels so much more inclined to explain elements of the Wizarding World than it does in following its lead cast. It does this to such an extent that it really feels like very little actually happens within the film’s plot.

“Sexy Dumbledore.”

The (supposed) story still follows magi-zoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his American friends; Wizarding sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein (Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol), and the muggle/no-maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). They are all caught in the middle of a crises in the Wizarding World, as the evil wizard Grendalwald (Johnny Depp) has escaped custody, and is rallying more and more wizards to his cause of “wizard supremacy” (that is to say, wizards being superior by nature to non-magic beings). While Scamander would rather not be involved in any greater conflict and just resume his studies of magical creatures, he is persuaded by one Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to aide the future Hogwarts Headmaster’s personal attempts to weaken Grindelwald’s efforts.

That may sound like a brief summary to avoid spoilers, but the fact of the matter is the story never really evolves from that setup. To make matters worse, elements of the first Fantastic Beast film’s ending are entirely retconned for seemingly no reason other than that they allow for more convenient progression to future sequels.

Kowalski – along with other non-magic folk in New York City – had his memory of the magic world wiped clean in the first film’s finale, which served as its most emotional moment. But apparently he still remembers everything just fine, because only “bad memories” were erased, and his were mostly good. Way to undermine the first film’s emotional crescendo…

Now, it’s safe to say we all assumed Kowalski would be getting his memories back, but to more or less brush aside an important part of its predecessor’s ending so nonchalantly just demeans the franchise itself. Ironically, The Crimes of Grindelwald would have probably been a better movie if getting Kowalski’s memories of wizards and magic back were a key plot point. At the very least, the plot would have actually been about the main characters in such a scenario.

“Unless you’re the most diehard Potterhead, this may be your reaction to all the mythology babble.”

Instead, we have a plot centered around Dumbledore and Grindelwald attempting to sway Credence Barebones (Ezra Miller) – the disturbed wizard with a demonic parasite who seemingly died in the first movie – to their respective sides of the struggle. Poor Newt doesn’t even feel like the hero of his own story, rather, just a figure passing through it. That’s a real shame, because Newt – as well as Kowalski, and Tina and Queenie – were characters who were distinct from the existing heroes of the Harry Potter series (particularly Kowalski, as his status as a non-magical being wandering the Wizarding World with childlike glee makes him one of the most unique characters in Rowling’s mega-franchise). But here we are, only in the second installment of this five-part series, and already the main cast feels like an afterthought to all the other goings-on. Heaven forbid the main characters get in the way of extended monologues of events the side characters went through.

All of this could have been made more forgivable if it only started out this way. Because in all honesty, there actually is some charm left in this Wizarding World as the film opens. The first few tidbits of lore and “for hardcore fans only” dialogue are fine, since they’re setting things up. But the film only builds on these overly descriptive elements more and more as the film goes on. I wish I were joking when I say the third act of the film comes to a dead stop as one character gives an overly long monologue on some backstory, before another character butts in and delves into their own overly long monologue on some backstory. What’s worse is that certain revelations that are made with the main characters feel completely rushed and meaningless because of this (one major ‘twist’ in particular comes across as utterly lifeless, as it seemingly comes out of nowhere). Maybe Rowling should have spent a little more time writing her main characters and less on…everything else possible?

There are some redeeming qualities to the film. The costume designs and special effects still impress, and despite their tragically limited presence, the primary quartet of characters still feel like a refreshing change of pace from Harry, Ron and Hermione. The acting is also pretty solid, with Jude Law and (I hate to admit it) Johnny Depp making the most of their limited screen time (seeing Grindelwald wave his magic wand like a conductor’s baton as he burns his enemies in blue flames is a memorable visual that feels overdue for the franchise, as it’s a moment that more or less defines the nature of its villain in one visual). The titular Fantastic Beasts that show up are still memorable (even if they only really show up in an attempt to justify this series’ ongoing title), and I like that we finally get to meet Nicolas Flamel (Brontis jodorowsky), the immortal alchemist first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, who has become so old that a small handshake nearly breaks his fingers, but still possesses strength in magic.

There are small doses of memorability in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald then. But they are too few and far between the constant cascades of exposition and sequel-hyping. There are still three entries left for the Fantastic Beasts series to live up to its potential (and Crimes of Grindelwald certainly lets you know more films are coming). But in order to make a great franchise, each individual installment has to be able to stand on its own two feet in addition to building the greater mythology. J. K. Rowling’s script for Crimes of Grindelwald is so deeply preoccupied with world-building that it forgets to be a movie in its own right.

 

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