There is some magic missing from the Fantastic Beats franchise. The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) feels as similarly forgettable as the first film did in 2016. Usually, one would look to the studio and the randomness of directors and writers assembled to keep a blockbuster franchise going, but that isn’t the issue here. David Yates has directed every Wizarding World of Harry Potter since Order of the Phonix. The writing is done by the beloved creator of the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, who has taken to screenplay writing for the two Fantastic Beasts films. That change may be the issue as the Crimes of Grindlewald feels bloated, poorly plotted, and ultimately fragmented when compared to the original eight films from this franchise.
Crimes of Grindlewald didn’t do much to elevate the Fantastic Beasts franchise
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is sent on a mission to Paris by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to intervene with Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) plans. These plans still include Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who survived the events of the first film – a detail that the whole wizarding community is concerned with, including Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) and his fiancé, Lita Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz). Even though Newt is currently banned from international travel, the arrival of Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler) prompt Newt to head to Paris in hopes of running into Tina (Katherine Waterston), who is also hunting Creedence.
If my synopsis felt bloated or too plot revealing then know that 1) it was and 2) it wasn’t. There is simply too much going on in this film, and none of the characters really get enough time on screen. This is a shame, as many of them are compelling and could make for an interesting story. However, rather than focusing on Newt or Dumbledore – or even the Crimes of Grindelwald, as the title implies – Rowling’s script seems hell-bent on just trying to expand the world rather than tell another compelling story within it.
Proof of this idea is seen in the change in setting for both of the Fantastic Beasts movies: there is absolutely no reason for this film to take place in Paris. There isn’t even a moment where it seems to matter that the film is taking place anywhere, other than a break into the French Ministry of Magic. However, unlike the first film, we aren’t even given any inclination to the differences in this country’s policies or customs. There is no scene of the French school for Wizarding and Witchcraft. Nothing. Just know that there is a Magical government body everywhere…and then you have “world building.”
Unfortunately, it’s not just the world building that feels undercooked. Newt is supposed to be the entry point into this franchise as Harry was to the first eight. The guise of him doing research for his book sets up his travels as he’s looking for Fantastic Beasts – which honestly would have been a great adventure series of films in the vein of Indiana Jones – is nothing more than a MacGuffin. Newt really is a side character in a blatant retelling of Wizard vs. Wizard set up from the first franchise, as Dumbledore and Grindelwald are destined to tangle in the upcoming three films. With the result being that Newt doesn’t feel like our main character, his arc is forced and happens suddenly, feeling more like a sharp turn in a car chase when trying to shake a tale rather than a gradual progression of change based on a series of life lessons. It is possible to tell an ensemble story in a way that we see the characters grow and change, but it’s not present in this film.
Despite the many flaws, there are still things fans of the Wizarding Wolrd, like myself, can find joy in. There are tons of easter eggs and references to various moments that are blatant fan service, but we’ll still drinking them faster than a mug of butterbeer. The visual effects continue to look solid. However, the most surprising joy of the film was Johnny Depp’s surprisingly subdued performance. There are still traces of Jack Sparrow in Grindlewald, especially in the opening sequence of the film where his escape from the Ministry’s custody harkens back to Sparrow’s own penchant for escaping sticky situations. Depp plays this role surprisingly calm and nowhere near as over-the-top as he often takes character roles.
The Crimes of Grindlewald is definitely on the lower tier of the Wizarding World films, but it’s not the worst movie to watch. It does feel more like a Michael Bay movie than an Alfonso Cuarón film,so it could appeal to an audience who just wants to see magical things happen that are loosely connected. Personally, that’s just not what I want from a world that crafted some of my favorite fictional characters and one of the most desired fictional locations I would love to visit. The newest Fantastic Beasts film earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.