FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (7 out of 10) Directed by David Yates; Written by J. K. Rowling; Starring Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler; Rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action; Running time 134 minutes; In wide release November 16.
The Harry Potter books and movies were an international phenomenon, and with such a detailed universe, it was obvious that there were still many stories to tell bouncing around in J.K. Rowling’s head. Thus, we got the short story Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them which is now being adapted into a five-part movie series, for better or for worse. The first film, while entertaining, wasn’t the best outing in the Potter film franchise and felt more like a setup for what was to come rather than a standalone movie. The Crimes of Grindelwald, fun as it is, still suffers from this same affliction but is still thoroughly enjoyable despite feeling like it’s not sure where it is going.
The movie is filled with spoilers we have been asked not to reveal, so this summary is purposely sparse. Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) was left in custody at the end of the last film, but almost immediately escapes from his confinement in the hands of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). He immediately sets out to gather followers to join him in his eventual goal of ruling the entire magical and non-magical population of the world. The Ministry of Magic tries to recruit Dumbledore (Jude Law) to aid in fighting him, but Dumbledore simply says his hands are tied and instead asks Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to once again thwart the deeds of the dark wizard.
There is so much to love and dislike about this movie that it’s hard to figure out where to begin. Potterheads are going to thoroughly enjoy the continued fleshing out of the rich history of this world and gleaning bits of trivia and Easter Eggs that are hiding throughout. This is the Wizarding World through and through, and to finally see a young Dumbledore teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts or being introduced to Nagini before she became a horcrux is delightful. Parts of the Deathly Hallows make an appearance, and the audience knows it is setting up a pivotal confrontation that will shape the rest of that world forever.
There’s also a pivotal scene towards the end when Grindelwald is demanding the witches and wizards pick a side in the upcoming battle that is breathtaking to watch. J. K. Rowling is no stranger to being politically outspoken, and the narrative she weaves through this character is immediately reminiscent of any “Make America Great Again” speech that has been uttered in the United States over the past few years. The parallels between Grindelwald and the current President are both eerie and undeniable, and the fallout that is destined to take place in both fiction and nonfiction is easily apparent.
However, all this does not mean that it forms a fully coherent movie. There is a definite lack of direction especially when comparing it to the first Potter franchise. Each of the eight films there (except for Deathly Hallows parts one and two) were simultaneously setting up an overarching plot while still being strong enough stories to stand on their own. Hop directly into the Prisoner of Azkaban, for instance, and audiences will be satisfied with the ending while still hungry to follow the dangling plot threads to see what happens next. Grindelwald is still setting the stage for the battle to come and doesn’t accomplish much in the way of telling its own story. It’s perfectly fine to spend time getting to know new characters and building up the plot, but when two movies are focused just on creating that foundation, it makes one wonder if the eventual end of the story has already been set in stone or if the writers are flying by the seat of their pants and unsure of where it is going.
While this is a flawed movie, fans are going to enjoy their time with it even if it has problems that are hard to ignore. While it is more of the same that we got with the first Fantastic Beasts, there are so many interesting things happening that it’s easy to get lost in the experience. No one is going to walk out saying this is their favorite Wizarding World film, but if there is an endgame plan in place, then it just might help lead up to that.
7 out of 10