The Crimes of Grindelwald has its moments of wonder and delight, but gets bogged down in its efforts to build out the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
Five years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 concluded The Boy Who Lived's adventures on the big screen in 2011, J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World returned with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a film that was designed to serve as the first entry in a five-part prequel/spinoff to the Harry Potter franchise. The second chapter, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, is now here and it aspires to further weave together the events and characters of the Fantastic Beasts series with Rowling's boy wizard saga before it. Unfortunately, The Crimes of Grindelwald ends up feeling more like a chore than a fun return to the Wizarding World. The Crimes of Grindelwald has its moments of wonder and delight, but gets bogged down in its efforts to build out the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up some six months after the events of the first Fantastic Beasts movie, in the year 1927. Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) finally makes good on his promise to escape MACUSA custody while he's being transported to Europe and immediately resumes his quest to not only gather additional followers, but also locate Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) - the abused wizard with an Obscurus parasite who, appearances to the contrary, managed to survive his showdown with MACUSA. Credence is now traveling through Paris in secret with a wizard circus, in the hope of uncovering the truth about his parents and family.
Meanwhile, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is recruited by his former Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to find Credence before Grindelwald does... though, Dumbledore avoids explaining why he doesn't simply battle Grindelwald himself. Along the way, Newt is reunited with his old pals Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), and learns from the latter that her sister Tina (Katherine Waterston) is also searching for Credence. As it turns out, however, there's even more at stake than any of them realize, now that Grindelwald has begun to expand his grip on power, with the intention of pursuing his true agenda: for pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings.
Once again written by Rowling and directed by David Yates (who has overseen every Wizarding World film since 2007), The Crimes of Grindelwald has the same overriding problem as the first Fantastic Beasts movie; namely, it's overstuffed with characters and plot threads that lay the foundation for later sequels, but are largely superfluous to the story at hand. The issue is compounded here by the addition of key players from the Harry Potter saga - some of whom, admittedly, are essential to the overarching Fantastic Beasts narrative, with Albus Dumbledore being the main example. Others, however, simply detract from the movie's more important threads with their presence and/or are given needlessly overcomplicated backstories (or, in the already-infamous case of Claudia Kim's Nagini, an inherently problematic one). In the end, it's difficult to become emotionally invested in anything that happens in The Crimes of Grindelwald because nearly every scene is devoted to table-setting, not character or thematic development.
These issues are further apparent in the film's editing and overall structure. The Crimes of Grindelwald hops so relentlessly from one plot thread to another that it struggles to find a rhythm to its narrative beats, resulting in some clunky pacing at times and ungainly transitions between scenes that are noticeably different in tone from one another. This makes it all the more difficult for the movie to generate any real sense of tension, much less leave an emotional impact during its dramatic or more heartfelt moments. It's too bad, seeing as Yates' visual sensibilities have only grown more sophisticated since he began working on the Wizarding World movies. He and series DP Philippe Rousselot likewise deliver some of the franchise's most confidently staged action sequences and polished set pieces here. Coupled with the handsome as ever production design from Stuart Craig and costumes designs by Colleen Atwood, The Crimes of Grindelwald's slick craftsmanship ensures that the film is generally pleasant to look at (though, it doesn't really demand to be seen in IMAX).
The returning Fantastic Beasts cast members are similarly comfortable in their roles here, though some of them (Sudol as Queenie, in particular) end up feeling misused. That goes double for many of the new additions; players like William Nadylam as Yusaf Kama (another wizard hunting Credence) and Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander (an Auror and Newt's "war hero" brother) are intriguing yet never get enough time to shine, whereas Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange (Newt's former schoolmate and close friend, who's now engaged to Theseus) is compelling, but is let down by her disturbingly dark, yet convoluted, backstory. Law gets more time to flourish as a younger and more vulnerable, but crafty as ever Dumbledore in the film, even though The Crimes of Grindelwald does little more than pay lip service (at best) to his queer romance with Grindelwald. And speaking of the dark wizard: Depp's performance as the character mostly feels like a pale imitation (no pun intended) of Colin Farrell's darkly seductive and charismatic turn as "Percival Graves" in the first Fantastic Beasts.
To be fair, there are certainly times when The Crimes of Grindelwald recaptures the joy of the best Wizarding World films before it, especially in the too-few scenes that focus on the actual "Fantastic Beasts" (Newt's Bowtruckle Pickett and Niffler pal, in particular, are delightful as ever). Problem is, those scenes are far outnumbered by moments filled with heavy-handed exposition and/or devoted to drawing out certain conflicts (see: Newt and Tina's will-they/won't-they relationship) in an unnecessary fashion. Even die-hard Harry Potter fans may find themselves frustrated by the way The Crimes of Grindelwald needlessly retcons or stretches previously-established Wizarding World lore and, in doing so, further muddles the series' messages about tolerance, empathy, and doing the right thing no matter the cost. That's to mention nothing of the film's sure-to-be controversial plot twists and reveals.
Altogether, The Crimes of Grindelwald has both the same strengths and flaws as the first Fantastic Beasts, along with a set of fresh issues that arise from Rowling's continuing efforts to expand the Wizarding World mythology, while simultaneously making it feel more interconnected. This only further contributes to the feeling that Newt's adventures might have made for an enjoyable trilogy (as Rowling originally announced they would be), but aren't substantial enough to sustain an entire five-part prequel to the Harry Potter series. Perhaps the eventual payoff will somewhat justify the over-extended buildup but, in the meantime, the Fantastic Beasts movies continue to feel tiring more than magical.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 134 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action.
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- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald/Fantastic Beasts 2 (2018) release date: Nov 16, 2018