Even though the Harry Potter saga ended seven years ago, there was plenty of enthusiasm for more adventures set in the wizarding world created by J.K. Rowling. The author and Warner Brothers set forth an ambitious plan for a series of five films based upon Rowling’s spinoff book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The first film was not without its charms and proved there could just still be life left in Rowling’s magic want after all. Now comes the first sequel in the Fantastic Beasts series with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and all the promise from the first film vanishes in a puff of smoke.
The sequel opens in 1927 with Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), the evil wizard, breaking free from his chains and setting off to recruit wizards from around the world in his plot to create a new ruling class of magical beings. In order to fulfill his nefarious scheme, Grindelwald will need Credence (Ezra Miller), the troubled young man from the first film, whose immense powers can lead Grindelwald to victory. This is really the only part of The Crimes of Grindelwald that’s rather straightforward and easy to follow.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is recruited by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to travel to Paris and track down Credence before Grindelwald finds him. However, Newt has been banned from international travel following the events of the first film. The awkward zookeeper wizard travels illegally with his friend Jacob (Dan Fogler), who just happens to appear in his London apartment with his wizarding girlfriend Queenie (Alison Sudol) for what one must assume are contractual obligations. Eventually, Newt reunites with Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), who is also searching for Credence. Floating around Paris at the same time is the French-African wizard (Yusuf Kama), Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), and Theseus’ fiancé Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz).
From the start it’s clear that there’s just no cohesive flow to The Crimes of Grindelwald. The film takes its time in getting the story going as characters from the first film return and it introduces new characters. The screenplay by Rowling takes so long in establishing what the story is about as it bounces around its various plot threads, resulting in more confusion and boredom than anything. The little glimpses into the odd corners of this world might’ve proved charming if the film wasn’t bogged down with a plot intended to be epic but is truly just meandering.
Everything about director David Yates’ sequel is underwhelming except for the film’s excellent production design. The awkwardness of Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is more tiresome this time around. Katherine Waterston’s Tina is on the sidelines for far too much of the film. There’s really no reason for either Jacob or Queenie to be in this film. Considering how much the lineage of Credence is supposedly of importance to the film, Ezra Miller isn’t given much to do except be angsty and ask questions about his heritage. Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald isn’t much of a captivating villain and most of his menace comes simply from looking like disheveled albino. We’re told repeatedly about Grindelwald’s persuasive powers with his fellow wizards but we’re given little evidence of this. Jude Law does his best as the younger version of the beloved wizard Dumbledore but the overstuffed, undercooked screenplay ensures that is basically a glorified cameo meant to appease fans with a jaunty, nostalgic trek through Hogwarts.
There’s one thing that The Crimes of Grindelwald offers a lot of – flashbacks. For a film that was already feeling disjointed and muddled, the seemingly endless array of flashbacks don’t help. Lengthy teary eyed speeches give way to these absurd flashbacks that drag on without offering many illuminating facts about the characters and their desires. Everything builds to one of the biggest anticlimaxes for a film of this scale, an absurd non-battle with nothing at stake. After everything, including a number of reveals that actually reveal nothing, The Crimes of Grindelwald concludes with a last ditch hope that a shocking revelation about Credence’s family will prevent audiences revolting. It may come as a surprise for a few people, but the big reveal actually illustrates how hollow this entire sequel is. You’ve basically just sat through over two hours of middling nonsense for one line of dialogue. It’s maddening.
The Crimes of Grindelwald has the unique distinction of a being a movie that is absolutely overstuffed with characters and plot lines yet nothing actually happens. Director David Yates returns to the world of magic once again in an entry that shows a franchise just spinning its wheels. It could be said that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald accomplishes what it sets out to achieve because it only exists to keep turn a profit until the next film. It doesn’t aim to tell a story. It doesn’t aim to push its characters for forward. It only aims to keep feeding the beast so fans get enough wizarding action to return for the third film, but after this that isn’t even a guarantee.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
An overstuffed sequel where basically nothing happens, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald spins its wheels as it’s a movie aimed at keeping the franchise going and not concerned with moving the story or characters forward.