OnScreen Review: "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald"

FantasticBeastsGrindewald (2).jpg

Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

I’m not a complete Potterhead, but I am a fan and owner of all the Harry Potter books and movies. I read the entire Deathly Hallows when it came out in one sitting, staying up all night to finish it because I’m a slow reader. I proffer my bona fides as a fan because after two installments of a planned five (FIVE!?!?!?) prequels, I am decidedly not a fan of this Fantastic Beasts franchise and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwaldmay have convinced me that I am ok walking away from this franchise.

The story picks up months after the conclusion of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. Grindelwald (albino Johnny Depp), has escape while being transported and is lying low in Europe gathering followers to his cause. The Ministry in England wants Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to work for his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) in tracking down Credence Barebone in Paris, who magically survived the ending of the previous movie. Newt doesn’t do sides, though, so he turns it down, but is shortly thereafter sent to Paris to look for Credence on the orders of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) in order to retrieve Credence before Grindelwald recruits him. In Paris, he soon reconnects with Tina (Katherine Waterston), Queenie (Alison Sudol), and Jacob (Dan Fogler) while trying to stop the gathering storm that Grindelwald has planned.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is something of a table setter, it attempts to do much of the necessary heavy lifting and moving pieces around on the board to set up the future. This happens frequently in serialized television shows, but it is usually one episode out of 12 or so. This is a feature-length film, 20% of the overall story. The major focus of this movie is not on the action happening on screen but the action to come in future movies. It has to be because there is dreadfully little here to keep it compelling. Basically, everyone and their mother is in Paris looking for either Credence or Grindelwald, and Grindelwald is concocting an elaborate plan to woo Credence over to his side (Never mind that no explanation is given as to how Credence survived what happened to him in the first movie).

It somehow manages to be slight in that by the end it doesn’t seem as though much has happened, and yet also incredibly convoluted. I was also shocked by how boring and uninteresting I found much of the film. Newt just is not a compelling central character to me. Redmayne’s performance continues to give me fits too; I can’t tell if Newt is just shy and socially broken or if he is somewhere on the autism spectrum. And Depp feels like he is going through the motions (Serious question: What was the last role that stretched Depp as an actor?)

I think much of this film troubles stem from the fact that they have five films to make and not enough story to warrant it. It reminds me of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was long but had things from the source material that needed to be trimmed. When it was announced that The Hobbit was being made, everyone was excited and then when it was announced that it was also going to be a trilogy, everyone scratched their head because there was not enough source material to justify spreading The Hobbit over three movies. The same is true here. There is rich source material for the Harry Potter franchise, so much so that a lot from the books are left out of the movies. With Fantastic Beasts, though, the number of movies was decided upon before there was sufficient story to support it. The Crimes of Grindelwald is a pretty clear indication that the studio needs to pad these stories rather than pick and choose about what stays and what has to go. Clearly Warner Bros. has not learned its lesson.

When the film is not setting the stage for future installments, it is desperately trying to tie things to the Potter franchise. Naginiappears in the film in human form, a circus act that can change into a snake and is cursed to eventually become a snake completely. Of course, Jude Law is a younger Dumbledore, so we are “treated” to Hogwarts again where a younger version of McGonagall makes an appearance. The Lestrange family is brought back around, this time primarily through Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), who is engaged to Theseus and hates her family. She is the closest to aninteresting new character, someone who isn’t what people think she is based on her name or appearance. Most of the new characters in this film behave exactly as you’dexpect them to based on first impressions. It’s mostly boring and predictable. The one thing the script attempts to make mysterious and meaningful is the true identity of Credence, whom some people seem to think is a long lost pure-blood heir of some kind. The closing of the film reveals the twist to his character, which turns out to be an utter groaner of a twist.

I had a hard time recalling much of what happened in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. I don’t feel the need to remember what happened in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, because the answer is that not much happened. Whether it is because David Yates is on his sixth film in the Wizarding World or because J.K. Rowling is needing to write the scripts to fill five films or because Newt is just not as compelling as Harry Potter, the magic has gone out of this franchise. While there are the occasional dazzling visuals, The Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t bring much else to the table. Rowling herself doesn’t seem confident in this story to have it stand on its own, needing to constantly tie it back to the Potter stories. There are still three movies left, and it feels like it could be a slog to reach the finish line.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars