Review – Fantastic Beasts : The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

by Old King Clancy

I’ll be honest and say that the Harry Potter series is not ‘sacred’ to me in any way, but the books were a strong part of my childhood and the films even more so. So I’m a definite fan of the franchise and even enjoyed the first Fantastic Beasts film bringing us back into the Wizarding World. So it’s difficult for me to call The Crimes Of Grindelwald a bad movie when there’s little to say that it isn’t.

Set 9 months after the first film where, true to his word, Grindelwald (Jonny Depp) has escaped custody again and is gathering followers for his Pure Blood Cause. The Ministry of Magic believe that Grindelwald is trying to recruit Creedance Barebone (Ezra Miller), the Obscurus who survived the events of the last film. He is now hiding in Paris searching for his true heritage, while some believing him to be Corvus Lestrange, the long lost brother of Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz). Giving his prior experience with Creedance, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is told by the Ministry that his travel ban will be lifted if he goes to Paris to find Creedance before Grindelwald does, however, Newt refuses on the grounds that he doesn’t want to pick a side.

Not long afterwards Newt is visited by Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler) who survived his memory loss from the last film. Though Newt sees that Queenie has hexed Jacob to want to marry her due to the USA’s rules against marrying non-wizards and in the ensuring argument Queenie runs away to join her sister Tina (Katherine Waterston) in Paris. Realizing that everyone is converging in one place, Newt and Jacob make their way to Paris in an effort to get everyone together to stop Grindelwald.

Right off the bat I’m going to say the story is the biggest problem this film has, it’s 2 hours long, and in all honesty could’ve been carved down to 20 minutes or so at the start of the next film. I’d almost call it a chase movie with everyone trying to find everyone else, but it’s not even that interesting, it’s more just (for lack of a better term) a searching film that muddles about for a couple hours waiting until they can pick up the main plot thread again for the third film. There’s not really a main storyline to tie it all together, you can make the argument that Creedance is the driving plot thread with everything revolving around either finding him, recruiting him or himself searching for his heritage. But amongst Newt looking for Tina, Jacob looking for Queenie, Queenie getting lost, Tina acting as an Auror, it all just gets lost in the shuffle and by the time everything comes together at the end. The film is just a half-baked mess with nothing feeling earned or moved forward, even the reveal of Creedance feels like Rowling pulling something out of her ass to act as a twist.

The whole story is just an overlong stall between the first film and the next one, nothing is gained and nothing is lost, and anything big doesn’t justify the rest of the film.

With there not really being much of a story, a secondary problem arose in there being the lack of character development, some good character moments, but again it’s all just a stall waiting for something to actually happen. Newt still has this awkward charm about him and he’s one of the best things about this series as a result, cleverly the film doesn’t paint Newt as this bastion of good, he does the right thing because he’s a good man, but his arc of finally choosing a side in this fight is the closest thing the film gets to actual development and it’s decent enough. It’s clear that Newt is burying his head in the ground trying to ignore the world around him, or rather the people of the world. And while it takes him the full film to change that around, you can see Newt isn’t doing it out of spite, but rather because he’s not ready to fight. It’s never seen as the right thing to do, but we never judge Newt too harshly for his actions.

She’s not in the film a great deal, but Waterston recaptures the serious nature of Tina along with her softer moments she shares with Newt. Initially, she’s against seeing him again after a mistake in a newspaper says Newt is engaged when actually it’s his brother, but the longer they spend together the more you see that there are still feelings between them. Their relationship is never the forefront, but even so Tina could’ve been given a little more solo work, more of her own Auror work investigating everything. I like Katherine Waterston in the role, but I’d prefer Tina be her own character rather than part of Newt’s.

Surprisingly, I found the low points of this film to be Jacob and Queenie which considering they were the high-points of the first film is a hell of a drop-off. Things don’t start well with the two of them being introduced with Queenie having put Jacob under a spell to marry her (in today’s climate it felt in bad taste) but I could see the potential in them with their relationship under threat from Wizard Law and that putting a strain on them. Jacob is funny as ever, but pines for Queenie too much without doing anything about it. While Queenie has her own storyline which I won’t spoil, but it’s not great, and takes her to a place I’m not too happy about seeing her go.

Supporting cast was a mixed bag, Ezra Miller had some good work playing a lost boy with sever anger issues and trying to make sense of his broken upbringing, not a whole lot of stand-out moments, but his quiet desperation was enough to make it work. His partner in crime Nagini (why they retconned Voldemort’s snake as a bullied young woman I don’t know) felt like she was just there to give him someone to talk to, absolutely no personality of her own. Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner) was better than I expected, turning what could’ve been a dickhead older brother role into something a little friendlier. Theseus can’t understand Newt, but they’re still related and they mean something to each other even if they violently disagree at times. Kravitz has an interesting role as Leta Lestrange, a friend of Newt’s who he once loved and probably still does, now engaged to Theseus. She doesn’t become a central figure about part way through the second act which feels like a misstep considering how she ties into the end. Her final confession to Newt brought a surprising level of darkness and hurt to her character that made me re-evaluate her, but even then there’s still a lack of a point to her entire storyline that sullies her character.

And then there was some random guy called “Yusef,” but he factored in so little to the rest of the film I don’t even care to mention him.

Rounding things out we had the two big new names, Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore and Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, and both making a strong mark on the series despite only getting a taste of what they can do. Law managed to find a comfortable middle-ground between Richard Harris’ soothing head-master and Michael Gambon’s authoritative one,  there’s still a bit of mischief and questionability about him, but that’s what makes the character so much fun and Law, in the little screen time he got, portrayed that very well. After his surprise appearance at the end of the first film, Depp had a lot of baggage going into this, his career had become a series of phone-ins and his personal life cast a shadow over the film as well, but Depp overcame that and made Grindelwald a suitably cold villain for this film. Admittedly, I don’t think that Depp was given enough to do, but he plays Grindelwald in a very different light to Voldemort. He doesn’t come across as cruel but rather this cold, uncaring person who’s trying to rule over Muggles because he believes them too foolhardy to rule themselves. It’s all in the effort of the greater good (The Greater Good) and I liked that, it’s not wholly original, but Depp made it work, and it’s a nice change of pace from Voldemort.

As for the relationship between the two wizards, there’s some subtle hints, but unless you knew what to look for it could go right over your heads.

With David Yates back in the directing chair and Rowling handling the script, you’d think the film is in safe hands, but honestly neither of them do a great job. Rowling especially with a severe case of overwriting considering the amount of side-characters, sub-plots and way, WAY too many plot-twists that just come across as bad writing trying to mask itself original. And that’s not even getting into the continuity issues with a certain teacher coming in for a cameo despite not being born yet in the time-line, or having Dumbledore, already noted as a Transfiguration teacher, teach “Defence Against The Dark Arts” for no reason other than having a scene with a Boggart. The film honestly reached Star Wars Prequel Trilogy levels of call-backs and references without the benefits of a lightsaber battle to kick things into gear.

Yates fared a little better as director, production wise the film is still very impressive and the amount of fantastic coats and where to buy them stuck with me throughout the film. There’s a much darker tone including child deaths (yes that is plural), wizard racism, and while not shown or said outright, a character’s mother is pretty much raped. It’s a mixed bag with the darkness with some leaning partially into shock value, but never going too far over that line. And for what it’s worth, Yates has some genuinely touching or humorous moments. Baby Niffler on a champagne cork got a good laugh, the way Newt handled the film’s standout beast, the Zouwu was simple but hilarious and the reconciliation scene between Newt, Tina, and salamander eyes was touching in a way that could only work with these characters.

Despite that, there’s still way too much bad with Yates’ direction to save him, the opening scene with Grindelwald’s escape is way too dark and features way too much flashing lightning that I kept losing track of what the hell I was actually seeing. There’s no tension with nothing being put on the line, we don’t find out why Grindelwald wants Creedance until the end, and despite his name being brought up enough times he shares no scenes with anyone but Nagina or occasionally Grindlewald. And the ending itself is pulled from the weakest of arses, where they force all the hero characters to stop a dragon made of blue fire from escaping a cemetery because it will destroy Paris. We only get that because they wanted a heavy action note to end the film on, instead giving us a half-assed scene which involved wizards dramatically slamming their wands into the ground.

I still don’t want to say it, but Crimes Of Grindelwald is a bad film. I liked the first Fantastic Beasts film, but the stalling done here makes me iffy for the series going forward. Right now the characters are the only thing saving it with Newt, Tina, Dumbledore, and Grindlewald being the main points I want to see more of going forward and hopefully if they can fix the bastardization done to their characters, I can include Jacob and Queenie as well. But with Rowling’s terrible script that even I can tell has way too many problems and Yates having him moments, but overall struggling to find the magic again, there needs to be a lot done to save this series from itself.

I am giving Fantastic Beasts : The Crimes of Grindelwald a 3 out of 5 Hairpieces!

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