Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review
The wizarding world of Harry Potter is a comfort blanket to the masses; Hogwarts, Harry and his childhood providing a familiar place to escape to. It was the balance between light and dark, the stakes large and small, and personal stories that brought so many fans flocking to the franchise. A balance that Fantastic Beasts: And Where to Find Them at least tried to recreate. The Crimes of Grindelwald, however, throws this out of the window. For Potter less was more. In this second of the five part series, the film says more is more. And there is far too much.
The Crimes of Grindelwald brings back the bumbling, kind-hearted Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), this time at the request of the ever charming Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). As the wizarding world continues to divide, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) and his silver tongue work to bring his plan of pure-blood world domination to fruition - for which the WWII parallels are decidedly uncoincidental though somewhat implicit. These three, all in search of the not-obliterated obscurial Credence Backbone (Ezra Miller), bring the drive of the film but this is reliant on more subplots than fantastic beasts in Newt’s suitcase.
The newly reunited Queenie Goldstein and Jacob Kowalski (Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler) struggle in their relationship. Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) alongside the mysterious Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) lead an investigation to find Credence, who himself is on a journey to find his true parentage with circus performer Nagini (Claudia Kim). While Newt’s brother, Theseus (Callum Turner), and former love interest, Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), travel to track down and put a stop to Grindelwald. Feeling lost yet?
Right from the off, The Crimes of Grindelwald lets you know the path the film will be taking by launching straight into Grindelwald’s escape during his transfer to the European Ministry of Magic. It’s an opening that is big on scale and as heavy handed as a troll with unnecessary, unsubtle, characterisation and exposition dumps that don’t even try to hide their intentions. This clumsiness in its narrative is, unfortunately, not only present at the start but throughout the film. It’s a shame since the film is so strong in depicting itself as a very different wizarding world that we’ve been used to. It’s darker and more adult and has some fascinating characters that could and ought to be fleshed out.
The problems of David Yates’ film all trickle down from its glaring pacing issues; with so many characters to work with what you ultimately end up with is no characters getting the time and depth that they deserve. Flitting between people and places, not much actually happens and at just over two hours, that is a surprise. Similarly, the few we do actually care about and who are provided rich material to work with, namely Jacob and Queenie, end up being swept under the rug while others are simply separated from any depth, such as Tina as ‘the love interest’. Why Leta, Theseus, Nagini, and more, had to be introduced at all is a question that has yet to be answered.
The first Fantastic Beasts film was criticised for feeling as if it were simply a set-up for things to come, Grindelwald’s rise to power and the team’s action against him. Its follow up is no different. More pieces are put into place but nobody has yet to really make a move in this elaborate game. Rowling and Yates seem to have lost touch on why people loved the Harry Potter series; each one was a story in its own right while the overarching plot unfurled slowly after hooking you in with developed characters and an intriguing world. This series’ prequel is simply overstuffed and too busy favouring action sequences over characters — it makes it very hard to care, even despite the set pieces being exciting, fun, and full of some remarkable CGI work.
The visuals of this film are stunning; it’s certainly the most aesthetically pleasing film of the Wizarding world so far, helped by the return to practical effects alongside the CGI. The tonal shift too works incredibly well and has the potential to take the series in vastly different post-Potter directions. Admittedly, issues aside, The Crimes of Grindelwald is a lot of fun, for fans and newcomers alike. Thanks go to Newt, Albus, and the fleeting appearance of titular fantastic beasts who cast a spell over the striking flaws of the film.