Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by David Yates
There are a lot of ways that you can mess up a sequel, but the most disappointing is when the film doesn’t just IGNORE the problems of the first film but actively builds off of them as if they were what we came there to see in the first place. It happened to The last Exorcism (no one cared about the Satanic Cult!), it happened with… well basically EVERY Hellraiser movie (the Cenobites shouldn’t be the main characters!), and it looks like that’s what’s happening with this film; a sequel to a film I enjoyed the heck out of but ended on… that note, and that’s the direction we’re going with. Sigh… I don’t know, maybe there’ll still be enough of the first movie’s cast to keep this form being utterly sunk by the presence of… that guy, but then again I can’t imagine how good the judgement of anyone involved with this could be if this is the guy they want to star in their lynchpin movie to an entire Harry Potter universe. Does this manage to eke out a bit of fun despite being in such poor taste right out the gate, or is it time for someone else to take a crack at the Wizarding World before the original creators cause even MORE damage to the franchise? Let’s find out!!
After the events of the last film, Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has been under in a magical US detention center and the Ministry of Magic in… I guess the UK (did they ever establish if the ministry in the books was just London, the United Kingdom, or something equivalent to the European Union?) has decided to move him back to London so he can stand trial. Of course they have a very convoluted and whimsical way of transporting this suspected murderer and terrorist which means that he ends up escaping and fleeing to France to I guess gather power and execute the next step in his overly convoluted scheme. If only there was someone powerful enough to hunt him down and bring him to justice! Sadly there isn’t, but Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is still bumming around England after the first movie, so I guess he’ll have to do! He’s been having trouble with his work since the Ministry put a travel ban on him after the events in New York (for reasons I guess?) and his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) is trying to help him within his power as an Auror, but Newt’s not much for shady deals and compromises, so he rejects any offer that they give him to… I think join the Ministry or something. Anyway, all this bureaucratic nonsense won’t keep Newt from starring in this movie, especially since Dumbledore (Jude Law) is giving him Main Character Tips and explicitly wants him to fix everything! I think the plan is that if Newt could somehow get to France then he can find Credence (Ezra Miller) from the first movie who by the way is still alive and important for some reason, and only Newt can do this because… reasons. Oh, but Newt needs more than just saving the world from tyranny as a motivation! Maybe if we could throw in some of the characters from the previous movies, we could get this ball rolling. Oh look! Jacob and Queenie (Dan Fogler and Alison Sudol) are back together and he knows about magic again, but Tina (Katherine Waterston) is in France to try and find Credence for the US Ministry, and now Newt’s super into her which is something I really didn’t get from the first movie, but whatever. Newt heads to France to find Tina and I guess Credence, Queenie fights with Jacob and tries to find Tina, and Jacob goes with Newt to find Queenie. There are also subplots involving Newt’s ex-girlfriend and Theseus’s current fiancée Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), Dumbledore being under strict watch by… someone at the Ministry, Credence and his new buddy Nagini (Claudia Kim) who gets maybe three lines trying to find his birth mother, and probably a few other things that just whizzed past me as I was watching this. Can Newt find Tina and Queenie and Credence and Grendlewald and maybe a few Fantastic Beasts before the running time threatens to suck up every remaining moment of my life!? Why the heck did they get Jude Law to play Dumbledore just to lock him in a castle for two hours!? WHO THE HECK THOUGHT ANY OF THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA!?
I… I don’t even know where to begin. The movie’s bad! Let’s just get THAT out of the way right now. And it’s really REALLY deflating just how much has gone wrong here to the point that it’s almost unrecognizable as a sequel to the previous film. I’m trying to think of a movie that’s comparable to this, and… Amazing Spider-Man 2? That’s not too far off base considering how dreadfully ambitious both films are in the most wretched and cynical ways possible, but even that doesn’t quite capture how… WRONG everything is. Transformers: The Last Knight? Hmm… maybe that’s slightly better even if that film is WAY better than this one. Yes, a Transformers film can kick the crap out of a Harry Potter film. Truly the world has gone topsy-turvy and frankly I think this movie should do what THAT movie did to its franchise and kill it dead in its tracks so that someone with a bit more restraint and a somewhat different vision can take a crack at it. I know this movie has made a decent amount of money, but ALSO like Transformers: The Last Knight, it hasn’t made nearly as much as people were expecting and frankly I can’t IMAGINE what the hell Warner Bros and co are gonna do to untangle this Gordian Knot they’ve gotten themselves into. Burn it down! Burn it ALL to the ground and then only bring it back when someone figures out what the hell to DO with this series, because this certainly isn’t it!!
I’d say that the most blatant and obvious problem with this movie is its script, but let’s hold off on that for a bit. Can we just start by talking about how TERRIBLE the film making is in this!? I mean, fine. The effects LOOK nice and there’s some decent music, but other than that this is an absolute NIGHTMARE to watch even before it decides to murder this franchise and stomp on its grave. It has ZERO pacing, there is no organic flow from scene to scene (stuff just keeps HAPPENING because MAGIC), and the internal logic of the movie, which admittedly has ALWAYS been a little shaky, is utterly non-existent here! I mean look, none of us mere mortals will ever truly understand how magic works in the Potterverse, but that doesn’t mean that the characters themselves shouldn’t know either! Who the hell plans to move a prisoner by flying chariot with a SINGLE compartment and during a LIGHTENING STORM!? I mean they clearly haven’t forgotten about Portkeys since once shows up later in the movie, so the only answer is lazy as hell writing. Everything about this movie is convenient for whatever scene we’re in and damned if it connects well with anything later! Some of the best parts of the last movie were watching how magical society integrated itself with the human world (something that we didn’t see much of when we were locked up in Hogwarts or on a dreary camping trip), but this movie takes that entirely for granted. Fine, not EVERYTHING in the last film worked in that regard (*cough* amnesia rain *cough*), but the effort was THERE to make magic users not just interact surreptitiously with the rest of the world, but be an active participant in their culture and customs. Here!? Eh, let’s just have stuff fall out of the sky and just say that muggles can’t see it because reasons. It’s this weird combination of overly ambitious and absurdly lazy where no one seemed to have a clear idea of where the heck we were going but damn it if they weren’t gonna get there by any means necessary!
What’s even worse than how sloppy this movie is is what they end up doing to the characters. A lot of people have talked badly about Eddie Redmayne and his performance in these movies, but I genuinely like Newt Scamander as a character and thought he was brilliant in the first film. He’s kind and gentle with those who others would just pass over or see as a threat, and while he’s absentminded in the same way that a lot of clichéd genius characters tend to be (i.e. why he’s often compared to The Doctor), I think he’s got a good heart and a captivating presence. What he isn’t though is an ACTION HERO, and there’s no reason why THIS character needs to be in THIS kind of movie. This would be like if you took… I don’t know, Mario, and have him negotiate a hostage situation. Great character, a solid premise for a story, DON’T MIX THE TWO!! No one else from the original casts fares much better! Tina, Jacob, and Queenie? Hey, I still like seeing them, but their roles are either utterly perfunctory or downright insulting (I’ll leave you to find out which is which!) and they ultimately get lost in the shuffle of this films seventeen separate plots; none of which are all that interesting and the ones that DO have potential simply don’t have enough room to breathe in order to be anything more than a distraction. Seriously, why the hell are they still calling this Fantastic Beasts in the first place when no one seems to care about that part of the story anymore!? Some of the new characters do fare better. While he’s barely more than a cameo, I like Jude Law does a great Dumbledore and I DO want to see more of him even if I know the next movie is only gonna hurt even more than this one. Zoë Kravitz as well is great, though her story is… confused, but we’ll get to the ACTUAL plot issues soon enough. There are some other decent roles in here like Callum Turner as Newt’s brother and William Nadylam who’s trying his heart out for material that he can’t possibly save, but no one really stands out here the same way the four heroes of the last one did. That is, everyone except… well we should probably get into that.
Right off the bat, I feel very confident in saying that there’s at least a dozen (if not many many more) actors who could have done just as good a job as Johnny Depp did in this movie without the baggage of, you know, domestic abuse. Also, no I’m not an expert on every actor in this movie so if someone ELSE in here did anything equally as heinous, well congratulations; you win the No Prize. I bring him up though because his presence and his character are emblematic of the issue with this movie; not the least of which because the darn thing is freaking named after him. The driving force of this movie is Grindelwald and his big plan that we’re building towards as the movie goes along, so if the film has ANY amount of focus its in regards to the stuff that’s in his orbit. It’s still not coherent though and putting so much attention on it only underlines how ungodly this screenplay is. Ezra Miller is back in this movie! I don’t know how, and for the most part I don’t know why, but let’s just ALLUDE to things he might do and then throw him a bone with a cliffhanger ending! One of the characters in this giant sweeping cast is won over to his side at one point, yet there’s absolutely no reason to believe this would happen given what we actually SEE in the movie. Why is Newt involved with ANY of this? Was Zoë Kravitz’s story supposed to in ANY way connect to his? I THINK there’s a bad cop in here, but I don’t recall that ever being a THING they resolve at any point? The most I will say positively about Johnny Depp and Grindelwald in this movie is that I actually like the plan at the end which is less a master plot to take over the world with a MacGuffin or whatever (a step up from Voldermort to be sure) and rather something that is uncomfortably close to what true evil looks like in our world. Sure the climax is one of the more ridiculous examples of that kind of grounded sense of evil, but at least the film had enough foresight to not make another MONSTER RUN AMUCK ending like in the first film, though they did end up doubling down on iffy cliffhangers instead of fixing that issue as well.
The best way to try and describe the plotting in this movie (aside from abysmal) is that someone spent two hundred MILLION dollars to try and recreate a soap opera without ever understanding what makes those work. It got as far as convoluted plotlines but couldn’t really figure it out from there. There are some GOOD moments in this and most of them are ones that don’t have to do with Grindelwald or the fate of the Wizarding World. It’s Newt taking care of his animals, the way that Jacob just kind of goes with the absurd magical stuff and observing how human these magic users really are, and even some bits with Zoë Kravitz and Jude Law. It’s about getting you to CARE about what’s going on even if it’s completely cheesy and nonsensical, and yet so little of this movie seems to understand that characters are more important than events and so everything that happens in here has very little impact despite how much effort has gone into making it. It’s the same thing that happened to the Transformers films (if any of them were any good to begin with), the Amazing Spider-Man 2, and let’s throw in Justice League as well even though, once again, that’s a MUCH better movie. Should you see it? I’m gonna go with a hard NO in the theaters, but there is something fascinating about this movie that makes me want to study it in the same way as The Snowman which was an unmitigated disaster borne from a slapdash production that some of us will be discussing for years to come. This is the kind of movie that documentaries are made about, or at the very least in depth film analysis video essays on YouTube. You should probably see it at some point if you are interested in that kind of minutia or are just curious to see how badly Warner Bros can ruin a cinematic universe AGAIN, but for everyone else this is a very easy one to skip. So where does Harry Potter and the Wizarding World go from here? I’m not sure because I STILL like a lot of the actors in this and would like to see more of them, but something REALLY has to change if this is gonna be more than just another franchise that drove itself into the dirt the moment it thought it was too big to fail. Yeah, this USED to be that way when they were still based on popular books! You’d think someone would have pointed that out before releasing whatever the hell this is supposed to be!