Fantasy films have a habit of bewildering people, usually because they don’t have a firm understanding of the world depicted; yet on this occasion, the source of bewilderment is the screenplay, seemingly crafted to confound everybody – even those who are familiar with the franchise. Worse still, it fails to atone for the missteps of its predecessor.
Whilst being transferred from America to Europe, murderous criminal Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes custody and spends the next four months in hiding, slowly gathering his forces. With Grindelwald unable to be found or captured, Britain’s Ministry of Magic calls upon the services of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), the magizoologist who helped apprehend the dark wizard in New York. Newt refuses the Ministry’s proposal to partake in their activities, preferring to care for his magical creatures.
The Ministry is not the only authority wanting to locate Grindelwald – another is Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), a teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Before being employed by Hogwarts, Albus and Gellert were close friends; as adults, the two are sworn enemies with differing views on what is best for the wizarding world. Like the Ministry, Dumbledore believes that young Scamander is best placed to find Grindelwald, but again, Newt declines the offer.
That very evening, Newt is greeted at his London home by Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and her beau Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), two of his friends from New York. Queenie tells Newt that the newly-engaged couple are on their way to Paris, where her sister Tina (Katherine Waterson) is working as an Auror – a law enforcer of the wizarding world. Newt, who has a soft spot for Tina, is pleased to hear she is in Europe, and is keen to make his feelings known for her, even if it means flouting his Ministry-imposed travel ban.
Depending on one’s viewpoint, The Crimes of Grindelwald is either the tenth film in the Harry Potter series, or the second instalment in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. It’s an identity not even the movie itself is sure of, striving to be a sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel, fan service, and an origin story all at once. To further this problem, the title is a very misleading one, since there is very little caring of magical creatures, and even less to do with Grindelwald’s supposed misdemeanours.
Perhaps a more appropriate title would be Dumbledore: Origins, since the film seems most keen to exposit the future Headmaster of Hogwarts’ story over anybody else’s. Although the young Dumbledore has only a portion of the screen-time, when compared to the other characters, it is he who drives the conflict and holds the film together, being the most interesting person by far. His presence is made all the more comforting by Jude Law, who charms endlessly in the role.
This contrasts with the character whose name adorns the title, who is the weakest aspect of The Crimes of Grindelwald. Much fuss was made about Johnny Depp’s casting prior to this film’s release, with various commentators citing his nationality, recent subpar form and domestic violence allegations as reasons why he is ill-suited to the role; nevertheless, the studio and the series’ creator, J.K. Rowling, stuck by their decision to cast Depp, expressing their contentment for his involvement.
One wonders why they bothered to do so after seeing the final product, because Depp is inherently boring as Gellert Grindelwald. The actor fails to instil any menace or quirks into his antagonist, neglecting to follow the Harry Potter franchise’s trend of producing memorable villains – Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort, for instance, made an impression by being sinister and silly in equal measure. Without being either, Grindelwald is merely an obstacle to the goals of our protagonists, rather than a threat.
Another contention with the second Fantastic Beasts is how it fails to resolve the mistakes of the first instalment. While the environs of Hogwarts and Newt’s indoor sanctuary are reasonably bright and cheery, the remainder of the film retains the gritty, drab palette that made the last film so unpleasant to witness; Credence (Ezra Miller) continues to be involved in the franchise, again having a depressing subplot; and one’s understanding of the plot is still reliant on being familiar with the other Harry Potter movies.
Yet by far the worst blunder of The Crimes of Grindelwald is the way in which it ends. Just before the end credits roll, a startling revelation is made about one of the characters (as per usual, this reviewer will not spoil who) that openly, blatantly acts as exposition for the sequel, thus providing the audience without a satisfying resolution. It’s also a very puzzling conclusion, for the film does not provide any hints as to what the twist is prior to it happening, potentially leaving even the most devout Potter fan feeling perplexed.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a rambling, incoherent mess of a blockbuster with faults aplenty, including a characterless villain, dreary settings and a terrible ending. The welcome inclusion of a youthful Albus Dumbledore helps to steady proceedings, but other than that, there’s little reason to be excited about this film.
2 thoughts on “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”
Fair take. I just watched it yesterday and Law is indeed fantastic as Dumbledore. As for the rest of the movie, I did not dislike it as much as you did, but I didn’t like it a lot either. I noticed the same identity problem that you did, as the film clearly doesn’t know whether it wants to be a prequel, an origin story, a Fantastic Beasts installment, or something else. In that regard, the first one did much better.
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Strongly concur with the last sentence, Matt – I wasn’t a huge fan of the first movie, but I too prefer it.
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