REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Bros. Pictures

The following is a review of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald — Directed by David Yates.

Everybody wants to rule the world. Everybody wants to be Marvel Studios or Lucasfilm. It is perfectly natural to want to make many Harry Potter spin-off films, but it is a bit much to want to make five films about Newt Scamander. But that isn’t all Fantastic Beasts is. Because this film makes it very clear that the Fantastic Beasts-brand is used as an all-encompassing title for every prequel spin-off dream Warner Bros. and J. K. Rowling, who is now writing the scripts for these films without basing it on a book of hers, could be interested in.

Remember the Lestranges? Let’s have a look at their family tree. Remember Voldemort’s snake? Well, let’s see her when she was a shape-shifting human at a magical circus. Do you think Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship is interesting? Let’s have a movie about that. You liked the beasts? Oh good, because they still have Redmayne signed to a contract. I think these are all very interesting spin-off stories. Unfortunately, it seems like Warner Bros. and Rowling decided to do all of this within one film series.

How can they make all of this work for one film series without making this feel like a messy two-hour-long film? The answer is that they didn’t find a way to make it work, but they certainly try to keep you entertained enough with a lot of easter eggs, references, and cameos.

And if that doesn’t work for you, then the film also has confusing and cheap surname mystery from start-to-finish. Okay, perhaps I’m being too harsh on the film, but that’s just because I loved this universe. I, like many others, grew up with this universe, but I think the Fantastic Beasts-series has turned into a rushed, misguided, and messy cash grab.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald takes place in 1927, and the film begins pretty much where the last film ended. The manipulative dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (played by Johnny Depp) is in custody and imprisoned in America. When he is to be transported from the States to Europe, Grindelwald makes his escape thanks to one of his followers, a magical lizard, and his own cunning magical tricks.

While Grindelwald is on the run, Newt Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne), the anxious and awkward “magizoologist” from the previous film, is just trying to continue his work, but, due to the events of the last film, Scamander has lost his international travel rights. During an appeal meeting, the British Ministry of Magic makes a suggestion: they will restore his travel rights if he agrees to find Credence Barebone (played by Ezra Miller) who was last seen in Paris, France. The Ministry of Magic suspects Credence is the long-lost brother of Leta Lestrange (played by Zoë Kravitz), who is engaged to Newt’s brother, Theseus (played by Callum Turner).

Though Scamander refuses, he will be on his way to Paris sooner than he initially thinks. As he leaves the appeal meeting, he is approached by Albus Dumbledore (played by Jude Law) who also asks Newt to find Credence. To add on top of all of this, Queenie (played by Alison Sudol) and Jacob (played by Dan Fogler) unexpectedly show up in Newt’s apartment, and Newt’s interactions with them finally convince him to go to Paris, but it is not just to find Credence — he wants to win Tina Goldstein (played by Katherine Waterston), who is also trying to find Credence, back.

This is an untidy and overpopulated film that is seldom engaging in the way that previous film entries in the Wizarding World have been. The character-focused scenes are not given room to breathe, and we rush from one expositional dialogue scene to the next so much so that it becomes extremely exhausting to follow the film, which is so hard for me to say because I do truly love the world of Harry Potter.

Furthermore, there are things that happen in the film that didn’t immediately make sense to me, some plot points are frustratingly convenient, and one scene, in particular, that promises a confrontation between Dan Fogler’s character and someone with a wand seems to have been cut to pieces so much so that only the set-up is present in the film.

Okay, so, let’s talk about the opening of the film because this section shows both the potential of these films and the frustrating distracting factors that made it hard for me to warm up to the film immediately. The film gets off to a very serious start with Grindelwald’s escape from his prison transport.

This is a really interesting sequence with potions, magic, and brooms. But the sequence itself was so hard to follow for me. Everything was just so dark, quickly paced, and messy. I had an idea of what was happening, but it was very confusing to track the action-heavy sequence. It might’ve been the theater I was in, but I’m going on the assumption that it isn’t just that theater room that had an issue with it. It is a cool sequence, but it was so hard to get a complete sense of what happened.

Then, after a small time jump, we are reintroduced to Newt Scamander in a scene in which he has conversations with both his brother and Leta Lestrange. This is an interesting scene with newish characters. But, once again, the filmmaking makes this scene hard to follow. In this scene, director David Yates works with these extreme close-ups of the new characters with both of them staring into the lens. I could see a reason for shooting these scenes like this — to show Newt’s anxiety — but, if I remember correctly, those types of shot are never seen again after this scene is over.

There are only a few moments in this film that successfully managed to conjure up actual engagement, excitement, and wonder, and all of these scenes pointed backward to previous successes that I, as a fan, have become attached to. When the film finally showed us Hogwarts, the first scene made use of the classic Harry Potter-theme, and it made me giddy — I was smiling from ear to ear. Then when Newt Scamander used his trusty Niffler, one of the popular ‘fantastic beasts’ from the first film, to figure out where Tina went, I was reminded of some of the scenes I liked in the previous film.

But the rest of the film is so confused about its purpose, it is complex to follow, and, more than anything else, I thought it was unengaging, and the performances certainly didn’t help. Although Jude Law gives the most interesting performance as Dumbledore, he really isn’t given many important scenes in the film. The casting of Johnny Depp has gotten a lot of criticism for good reason, and even though it may not be his performance that takes you out of the film, he doesn’t do much to really make the character his own. He gives a lifeless and unintimidating performance. Eddie Redmayne’s performance is more distracting than I had imagined it would be. While I liked him in the first film, he plays the character with an overreliance on the twitches, nervous speaking, and posture that has come to define the character. Finally, Ezra Miller does not get to do anything other than look confused and scowl.

Speaking of character, I thought that there were some character betrayals in this film. A certain character who was eccentric in the first film comes to mind. In this film, she immediately makes decisions that are disturbing, and, generally, her character acts strangely from start to finish. Furthermore, I understand that Rowling has retconned her established canon to such an extent that book readers are confused by the film. Now, it should be mentioned that since this is a fantasy world, some of these inconsistencies and timeline issues can conveniently be explained in a future film also penned by J. K. Rowling, but we should be able to take the characters at face value here.

One final critical comment that I have about this film is that I am confused by the costume design in this film. Please don’t misunderstand me, Colleen Atwood’s costume design is as fantastic as Scamander’s eponymous beasts, but I don’t think Albus Dumbledore’s wardrobe compares well with the clothes that we know Dumbledore wore in the original films. Where are the colors? Where are the robes? Why is he wearing a fancy three-piece suit that makes Gilderoy Lockhart’s wardrobe from the original films look otherworldly?

The beasts are fantastic (one of the new ones is genuinely fun to watch jump around) and Hogwarts still feels like home, but, with that, I’ve run out of positive things to say about this film. J. K. Rowling must be a great fantasy novelist, but her talents as a screenwriter must be called into question. The latest film about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — is a misguided mess of a film. It genuinely feels like multiple different films crammed into one unengaging final product. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a frustrating low-point for Rowling’s Wizarding World.

4.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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