'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald' Film Review - The Wizarding World Loses A Little Bit Of Magic
By Jack Dignan
In Cinemas November 15th
It’s easy to get lost in the magic and wonder of a franchise like this. From its cinematic origins in 2001 to its spellbinding conclusion in 2011, Harry Potter never ceased to amaze. In 2016, its prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, was a film that dazzled and amazed on first viewing, but, as time went by, the magic wore off and the joy of being back in this world was replaced with the slow realisation that perhaps this film is simply fine. I still like it. But it was these sequels, which were set to deal with famed villain Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) as he rises to power before confront old alley/lover Dumbledore (now played by Jude Law) in what I imagine will be the final movie, which really had me intrigued.
There’s so much mythology at play here, with deep cut references for Wizarding World fanatics and a few on the nose ones for those only mildly familiar with the titles of these films. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald had the perfect opportunity to utilise this mythology and explore the origins of characters whose backstories we’ve been speculating about for years. There’s so much to work with, so many stories to tell, and yet the one we ultimately end up getting chooses to shy away from the Dumbledore/Grindelwald story almost entirely, instead focusing on everyone’s least favourite character from the first film, Credence (Ezra Miller, whose performance struggles to choose between replicating what he did in the first film and evolving this character into a more confident individual, meaning he comes across rather stale).
Sure, we get a little more Newt (Eddie Redmayne), a little more Tina (Katherine Waterston), and I guess technically Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) are here too, but this is a film that’s about very little, and in the process these once-interesting characters are pushed aside and made absolutely worthless in a narrative that lacks any sort of goal or dramatic tension. Grindelwald, after making a daring escape from prison in a sort of fun opening sequence, is after Credence, who, for whatever reason (power, I guess?), holds the key to winning over Grindelwald’s much needed followers. So basically everyone’s on a wild goose chase to find Credence before Grindelwald.
Also in the mix are Newt’s aurora brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and his fiancé Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), who, despite giving a decent performance, gets far too much screen time for a character I simply do not care about. That’s the biggest issue with this film, really. J.K. Rowling attempts to stuff the narrative full with subplots and side characters whose story arcs don’t mash well together and whose tragic pasts don’t play into anything. I totally get what Rowling is trying to do, but it doesn’t flow. Nothing ends up making an ounce of sense and the plot is a mismatch of irrelevant scenes presented without context and raising more questions than answers.
Rowling has laid out the groundwork of what could’ve been an interesting story, but she struggles to find the connective tissue, and, in the process, decides to break all of her own rules along the way. I guess it’s totally fine to use magic in front of No-Maj’s (aka Muggles) now? Characters make baffling decisions at every turn, none of which I can really delve into with spoiling the few plot points this film has to spoil but a lot of it revolves around them knowing information there’s no way they could know. Worst of all, it all amounts to nothing but set-up for the next film, which is what this series has fallen victim to twice now.
Personal controversy aside, Johnny Depp just feels out of place in a series like this. His character is never intimidating nor interesting. He’s constantly described as charming and persuasive, but Depp’s performance feels more self conscious and anxious than anything else. Sure, he kills a baby and throws an animal out of a flying cart at one point, but it all feels very goofy. His character has no clear goal or motivation, and it all builds towards a third act showdown that literally makes no sense in the slightest, and that’s saying a lot coming from somebody who knows Harry Potter lore reasonably well. Still, he dresses nice; I’ll give him that.
In fact, a lot of the costumes are very pretty, but they’re put to waste in a world that’s jam-packed with subpar CGI and obvious green screen. Not even the creature design is up to standards with the first film. The Nifflers, a favourite of mine from the first time around, have an extra layer of cleanliness to their design. There’s no detail and the colours are a lot smoother, almost as if it were one render away from the finished product, which isn’t aided by cinematography that is, quite frankly, incredibly ugly (the score is nice though!). Granted, these platypus-like creatures are just too cute for me not to enjoy their constant screen time. If any character deserves a spin-off series after this, it’s them. Throw Dobby in the mix and you’ve got $1 billion.
Sadly, they’re about the only beasts that are actually interesting this time around, and the only ones that play into anything. Oh, how we get a lot of new beasts, but all of it amounts to very little, making this story even more unnecessary than it already was. If you shave off all the time wasted with these creatures, and remove all unnecessary characters from the mix (which is practically everyone), Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald would feel like a ten minute prologue to a much better movie. Again, it’s hard to explain why without giving this whole plot away, but it’s all overstuffed nonsense that shies away from the topics we actually care about to deal with characters that just aren’t interesting. Maybe making five of these was a bad idea…
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