Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

If Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is any indication, this new franchise is a test of the mettle of fans of the overall “Wizarding World” of Harry Potter. How much do you care about the tiniest details that were tossed off in J.K. Rowling’s original series of seven books about a boy wizard with a peculiar scar on his forehead? For those who might be inflamed by the notion of characters mentioned in the first Harry Potter book now being seen up close and in person, there may be some level of excitement to be had. For the rest of us, The Crimes of Grindelwald is a slog of a story that features an excess of dry, dull dialogue and a lack of story propulsion.

The sense of deflation that accompanied the revelation at the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — when a seemingly American wizard played by Colin Farrell is revealed to be a bleach-blonde Johnny Depp in disguise as the infamous dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald – does not go away in this new film, again directed by David Yates and written by Rowling herself. In the opening scene, Grindelwald escapes prison custody to unite his followers and take over the world. The concept of the escape is intriguing, but the execution is dreadful thanks to a hideous use of CGI, shoddy direction, and the choice to set the escape in a very dark and very stormy night, thus rendering the entirety of the action incomprehensible. After Grindelwald escapes, a host of good wizards want to stop him, but our hero, the awkward Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is unwilling to join the fray. “I don’t do sides,” he says when asked to side against a character who, at one point, orders the death of a toddler. Not the most endearing way to craft a hero’s journey.

A good chunk of what made the first Fantastic Beasts charming has either vanished or been twisted around so much in the sequel that it retroactively makes the predecessor seem worse for wear. One of the poignant subplots featured a Muggle named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who falls for the charming blonde witch Queenie (Allison Sudol), before he ends up having his memory erased to maintain the divide between the human and magic worlds. But since this is a sequel, such trivial elements as a person’s mind being wiped can be shrugged off, as when Jacob reappears to greet Newt overseas, essentially saying, “It didn’t work!” Which is as convenient as the old “A wizard did it” explanation, if reversed. And the tetchy chemistry between Redmayne and Katherine Waterston, as Tina, an American Auror with a crush on Newt, has gone away as well in part because Tina mistakenly believes that Newt is engaged to another woman, and Newt is unable to form the simple sentence “I am not engaged” when talking.

At 134 minutes, there’s an extreme amount of talking in The Crimes of Grindelwald. With the exception of the opening sequence and a climax — which centers around a rally at which one character…talks a lot — this is a film full of dialogue and very little else. Much of it focuses on the mysterious Creedence (Ezra Miller, tamping down his natural charisma as hard as he can), and who he really is. As was revealed at the end of the first film, Creedence has unspeakable magic powers and as an orphan, his true identity is apparently Very Important. Considering that this is the darker second chapter in a large franchise, it’s hard not to make Star Wars parallels; to wit, this film is like if The Empire Strikes Back had every character asking each other who they thought Luke really was before we all learned about his dad being Darth Vader. The more dialogue mounts up, the duller it gets.

That, perhaps, is the crowning disappointment: The Crimes of Grindelwald is exceedingly dull to watch, even with new cast members like Jude Law (as Albus Dumbledore himself) and Zoe Kravitz (as an old flame of Newt’s) appearing. In advance of the new film, it might’ve seemed like Depp getting cast as an iconic villain in the franchise was, at best, a poor choice in light of sexual-assault allegations levied at the actor by his ex-wife. And while seeing him in a big-budget franchise – again – is the opposite of exciting, he’s barely in the film long enough to make an impact. The same goes for both Law and Kravitz, and even more of the supporting cast.

In recent months, J.K. Rowling has promised (or, depending on your mileage, threatened) that there will be five Fantastic Beasts movies. And for some superfans, that might be a most tantalizing prospect. But even some fans of the original Harry Potter book and film series are going to be left wanting, because it seems obvious that there aren’t five films’ worth of story here. Eventually, as was mentioned in the original books, Dumbledore and Grindelwald will face off, and Grindelwald will be defeated. Seeing as this film takes place 18 years before that defeat will take place, the operative word unfortunately is “eventually”. If Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is any indication, the next entries in this franchise are not going to be any more exciting, as we all wait to finally get to the fireworks factory.

/Film Rating: 3 out of 10

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.