( COURTESY / WARNER BROS. )
Before getting into the actual review, let me just start by clarifying this: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is not a movie made for a universal audience. Though it tries (with overly expositional dialogue) to catch up people who are not the biggest followers of the Harry Potter series in general, or who did not see the film’s predecessor, the film works off of too many assumptions to cater to an uninformed audience.
Even with an informed audience, the film is disjointed enough that it is difficult to follow, and while it’s still worth watching, it cannot hope to live up to the first Fantastic Beasts.
While the first film featured excessive exposition too, it had the benefit no other Harry Potter film possessed: it was written to be a movie on its own merit, not a condensed version of a larger story, so rather than cramming in every action-packed event imaginable, the film took time to allow its well-casted actors to actually interact, to build characters and relationships, and to win over people’s hearts with its “fantastic beasts.”
And that’s where The Crimes of Grindelwald suffers – though it is an original story, it strives to achieve the complexity of a book in an attempt to set up for the following movies. And to fit it all in, the movie chooses action over character interaction. It crams as many visually stunning special effects into its run time as possible, while also trying to create a multi-layered plot with plot twists, mysteries, and twists on the plot twists. In doing so, it leaves events feeling disconnected and unclear, and new characters feeling underdeveloped.
Though Eddie Redmayne never fails to create the most lovable Newt Scamander imaginable, and the core cast of characters remains as corky and adorable as ever, their interactions are rushed and their story arcs feel incomplete. And, save a select few, the plethora of new characters are almost difficult to remember and distinguish from each other, simply because each receives so little screen time.
The film is still worth seeing – it has its moments with the characters we have grown to care about, with the beasts that effectively garner a collective “aw” during their limited screen time, with intriguing visual effects and with a plot that – while unfocused – has its own interesting layers. But it’s easy while watching for the story to come off confusing at best, and purposeless at worst, with infinite loose ends to remind us to come back for the sequel.
It keeps with the Harry-Potter pattern of movie progression; this film is darker than its predecessor both visually and theme-wise, and it’s interesting to watch Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald rise to power. The movie cleverly weaves in the darkness of the “muggle” history, with references to the World Wars, anchoring it down into our reality more than any other film.
And, any fan of the Harry Potter franchise might feel a twinge of nostalgia as the film reenters the Hogwarts grounds, and they once again have the opportunity to see the Hogwarts castle and its halls on the big screen (or, depending on the type of fan, they might cringe away from the movie touching something so sacred). With the revival of this backdrop comes the revival of some of the classic score of the Harry Potter movies, which ties everything together in a nice bow.
As such, the movie does avoid coming off as merely a teaser for the following film (though just barely). It has its merits if you look for them, and there is an interesting movie within its two-hour runtime, even if it is hampered slightly by a plot that tries to do too much at once.