Starring: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs), Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury), Alison Sudol (Between Us), Ezra Miller (Justice League), Jude Law (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Johnny Depp (Black Mass)
Director: David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)
Writer: J.K. Rowling (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes
Release Date: 16 November (US, UK)
There are a lot of reviews I’ve written over the years that I now disagree with, but few more so than my initial opinion on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I came out of that film indifferent but still positive; not as good as any of the Harry Potter films, but still decent. After a few years and attempting to watch it again, I can safely say I was wrong. It’s a meandering and often boring exercise in pointless world building, and a clear example that J.K. Rowling has struggled in the transition from writing novels to writing screenplays. If I were to review the film now, I’d probably give it a 5/10. But the adventures of Newt Scamander don’t end there, as now we have four more promised instalments to experience, and there was a small amount of hope in me that Rowling and David Yates may have cracked the code this time. Sadly, that is not the case. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald not only fails to improve on the original, but also serves as an example of one of the worst exercises in genre storytelling and expanded universe franchising in recent memory.
Picking up nine months after the events of the first film, The Crimes of Grindelwald suffers from every ailment its predecessor had but to an even worse degree. The film lacks any sense of cohesive narrative flow, with about a dozen plotlines that only connect to each other in the most haphazard way, including several overlong flashback sequences detailing events that could have been exposited more concisely, all leading to an underwhelming climax that only delivers on “shocking” reveals and even more sequel-baiting. There is absolutely no discernable structure to the screenplay or any tangible sense of pacing, leading to an already long and drawn-out film only feeling longer. Take away all of the superfluous action sequences, and there’s only about enough meaningful plot here to cover the first act of any other movie, only making it clearer that the material has been stretched thinner to accommodate more movies. The Crimes of Grindelwald has marketed itself on its secrets, but every twist the film has to offer falls flat; those that aren’t predictable are only so because they’re so convoluted and ridiculous. The cacophony of carnage that is this film’s attempt at storytelling only further exemplifies that Rowling not only doesn’t know how to structure a screenplay, but has ran out of ideas of what to do with her own creation. There is ample room for exploring new territory in the Wizarding World, but what we have here is just a superfluous junk drawer of unnecessary lore facts that not even most Potter fans will find meaningful.
In all of the mess of the story, The Crimes of Grindelwald fails to even have a distinguishable protagonist, and considering the sheer cavalcade of disposable characters with silly names cavorting about this picture that shouldn’t be surprising. Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander ostensibly fills that role, but in practice he doesn’t really do that much. The film makes huge leaps to keep him relevant, but the film never really justifies why he needs to be there beyond contrivances (seriously, why do the Ministry of Magic and Albus Dumbledore think the best person to essentially hunt down a terrorist is a socially-dysfunctional zoologist?). Once again, Scamander feels like a loose end in his own movie, and also yet again Katherine Waterston’s Tina Goldstein seems like a more appropriate leading role, but she has even less to do here than last time around and her chemistry with Redmayne continues to be dubious at best. Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski continues to be the only likable character in this mess, but he amounts to little more than comic relief, and the way they’ve written themselves out of his arc in the first film is bafflingly underwhelming.
Alison Sudol as Queenie finally seems to have more of a point here, but her arc over the course of the film comes out of nowhere and yet is somehow predictable from her very first scene. Ezra Miller again feels wasted as Creedence, giving little to do despite much of the plot being built around his quest and the big secret around him, which only amounts to yet more empty promises. Callum Turner is drastically underdeveloped as Newt’s brother Theseus, Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange remains something of an enigma until the third act when her character turns into something out of a soap opera, and Claudia Kim’s role as Nagini is as problematic as you can imagine and (I keep saying this, don’t I?) amounts to nothing. They even make a big deal of throwing Nicholas Flamel into the picture, but he does absolutely nothing and him being Flamel isn’t even important; they just wanted a name fans would recognise and go, “I understood that reference!”
Now the big draws here are supposedly Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore and Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald, but both are also thoroughly underwhelming. Dumbledore is barely in the film and Law’s performance is workman-like at best; he is neither a faithful progenitor to either Richard Harris or Michael Gambon’s performances, nor an original refreshing take on the beloved character. Depp fares better performance-wise, but for a film called The Crimes of Grindelwald he really doesn’t do all that much (and on that note, not really much of any Fantastic Beasts either. Why did they name this franchise after a textbook again?). After an admittedly fun opening escape sequence, all he does is hide in the shadows facilitating his needlessly complicated puppet master machinations so overwrought that he can’t even effectively rebuke his own henchman pointing out the holes in his plan. Also, it’s Johnny Depp, and we should all know better than to keep enabling him by putting him in more movies.
There’s not really much to say on a technical level here. It’s a well-crafted Hollywood blockbuster with all the fancy trappings that come with having access to millions of dollars and some of the best craftsmen in their various fields. The sets, the costumes, the props, the visual effects, the music; all are better than they have ever been. But there is one major flaw, and it’s once again something that affects the storytelling: the editing. This has some of the worst structural editing since Batman v Superman, with very little logical flow to when we move from one plotline to the next or sometimes even within the same plotline. It’s hard to explain effectively without showing you actual clips, but trust me: there is some amateurish snipping here that screams this was trimmed down from something even more unwieldy and cluttered.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is not only the worst thing to come out of the Wizarding World (yes, worse than The Cursed Child even), but the worst example of a prequel to a major franchise since X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This movie is the cinematic equivalent to reading Rowling’s tiresome retcon tweets: trite, laboured, unnecessary, and sometimes even offensive. It both fails as a compelling story on its own terms and as part of the universe it feebly attempts to expand, resulting in an experience that only the most diehard and forgiving Potter fan will find any enjoyment in. It’s hard to imagine how much more they can jump the shark with three more instalments to supposedly go, and given how unstoppable a phenomenon Harry Potter is we are all but guaranteed to get them. At this point, I’m only interested in this franchise to witness the train wreck, and the vindictive sadist inside me can’t wait to see the next collision play out.
FINAL VERDICT: 2/10