So, I think we need to understand collectively, as a society, what JK Rowling is and what she is not.
She was really, really good at one very particular thing: creating a fun little wizarding world with simple characters going on a dumb Hero’s Journey that was meant for babies. The original book, The Philosopher’s Stone (later dumbed down by an American publisher because we are, above all things, an incredibly stupid society) was a perfectly enjoyable children’s book, meant to be consumed by people with brains the size of walnuts. It was about the kinds of things that children love and love to hate - authority, friendship, magic, parents, goblins, castles, ghosts. As the popularity of the series grew, it became increasingly obvious that JK Rowling was not a particularly talented writer, and that the demands of the franchise were putting pressure on her to come up with increasingly terrible ideas (mostly relating to plot and character) and inflating her self-evident genius.
The books swelled in length. The last one was over 1,000 pages, while the first was a crisp and delightful 223 page read. Like all fantasy writers (see: Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin), once the thing becomes a success they can’t stop themselves and no editor wants to tell them that the 500,000 words they just turned in about rotting wheat are terrible. Anyway, with JK Rowling the ideas swelled in self importance and non-sense. The mythology got more complex, impossibly so at times. Her fan base didn’t care. They loved it. And I’ll admit. The characters were seashells, and the melodrama was garbage. How many times could Harry do something, then be falsely accused by the Ministry, then team up with his buddies to figure out the real truth. Apparently, like, seven times.
But the world she built. That is where the genius lies. It’s a great world full of magic and fun. It all came together somehow, and even as she invented more and more implausible ties between Harry and Voldemort, and the plot thickened into an unappetizing porridge, and even as characters did inexplicable things like Hermione marrying Ron, and even as it became increasingly obvious that wizards don’t know anything about the magic that they use or the world they live in as long as it heightens the drama, the world of Harry Potter was alive and popping. Nobody can deny that. It’s a fucking magical place.
So, when Warner Bros announced they were going to go back in time and milk that world for billions upon billion of dollars, that was all well and good with me. Because I don’t object in principle to going back to that world, except this time we get to have a look at some interesting and heretofore unexplored corners of it without being force to view it through the lens of Harry Potter and his highly negligent teachers. The first movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, was passable fun. It took us to the underground magic world of 1920s New York and it was a breezy and silly, if fairly meaningless, exploration of what it would have been like if JK Rowling was a nastalgic Jazz Age flapper instead of an uptight suicidal English marm.
The problem with this second movie is that nobody involved in it seems to be aware that the good thing about Harry Potter was its rich world-buiding. Instead, they double down on all the things JK Rowling is bad at, and the film ends up being fatally overloaded with plot. Rowling is the credited writer on the screenplay so we know, unequivocally, who we should be blaming for this shit sandwich. This film is just too weighed down with garbage. It pushes past the fun wandering around the World of Harry Potter appeal that might have justified its existence, and instead launches into building up an extremely complicated and uninteresting wizarding family tree and plowing into numerous terrible and terribly confusing subplots and reveals. It would be difficult to envision a worse Harry Potterverse movie, to be quite honest as you just end up sitting there waiting for it to end. The plotting is all in service of building up what the studio has no doubt envisioned will be a never-ending money-printing franchise and it just, you know, it stinks.
If you are JK Rowling, or anybody involved in developing the Potterverse, you need to know your strengths and your limitations. Strengths: this is a wildly fun magical world of nearly infinite possibilities that audiences love to dabble in. Non-strengths: grossly over-plotted, over-complicated wizarding mythology hinging on weakly developed, uninteresting characters, uninspired cameos and a bunch of wizard gobbledygook instead of compelling narrative. This film tried really hard to turn its weaknesses into strengths and it utterly failed. It’s the first time in the franchise I felt a film was actively bad, and I have zero excitement or really interest in seeing the third installment. And that’s a shame, for I am quite a nerd.