TL;DR – Of the many things I expected of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, what I was surprised about was just how dull it all is. Watching JK Rowling fling herself into George Lucas prequel territory is really sad to see.
Score – 1.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
As I was walking out of the cinema today I thought back to the first Fantastic Beasts film. I wouldn’t say it was a great film, but it had its moments and set the groundwork for the future, but there was always that last minute reveal of Johnny Depp that that sort of took the wind out of its sails. Well, they have had a couple of years to work all that through that so what did we get, well we got a completely dull film that in some respect hurts everything that comes before it by existing. Well, that’s not great. No, it is not.
So to set the scene, it has been a year since the events of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (see review) and since then Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has been held in custody in the dungeons under the American Ministry of Magic headquarters in New York. However, it is time for him to answer for his crimes in Europe so off he goes under the strongest magical protection the Ministry can provide, which he instantly breaks out from. Six months later and Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) finds himself once again in the British Ministry of Magic to fight a travel ban put on him since New York. However, not even his brother Theseus (Callum Turner) can help because Newt refuses to pick a side. Well Credence (Ezra Miller) has been spotted in Paris, and Grindelwald is also meant to be in Europe somewhere, oh and Tina (Katherine Waterston) is hunting them in Paris, and Queenie (Alison Sudol) is also going to Paris to be with Tina after being called out for enchanting Jacob (Dan Fogler), and well I guess we are all going to Paris.
Look, I don’t think it will be a surprise to say that I didn’t like this film, however, it would be also disingenuous to say there were was nothing here of note. Even though they are not given much to work with, a lot of the cast are really trying to bring their own to this film. You have Credence trying to find the answer to who his parents are and Ezra is really playing the heart out of this role. I also like the arc of the relationship between the Scamander brothers, and well Jude Law can make just about anything work. As well as this, the visual effects are also really quite good, with the creature creation being another clear triumph in the film. Indeed there is one small scene where we go into Newt’s larger creature warehouse and it might have been the highlight of the film. However, that is pretty much all I can say that is positive about the film. Just a quick warning from here on in, there will be [SPOILERS] for the film, including the ending because we have to talk about characters and that involves talking about the final act.
The problem with talking about where The Crimes of Grindelwald goes wrong is that there are so many issues it is hard to pinpoint where to start. So let’s start by looking at the big level stuff before working our way down. The first thing any prequel or sequel has to do is ask the question, do I have a reason for existing other than the fact that the last film made money?, and here is where the film has its first stumble. The Crimes of Grindelwald adds nothing to the Harry Potter Universe or the Wizarding World as we are to now call it, other than maybe ‘oh look we get to go into the French Ministry of Magic that’s kind of cool I guess.’ Indeed for me, it had the exact opposite effect, as I was watching it, it honestly felt like it was tarnishing the previous films, like the first time you heard Anakin’s lament about sand. As well as this, while the visuals were fine, the musical score felt lifeless, I know James Newton Howard can make beautiful music, but here it felt like he was forced to imitate Alexandre Desplat who was imitating John Williams and something was lost in translation.
One of the film’s really big problems is that it feels the need to make sure everyone who was in the last film makes an appearance here when really they should have moved on, you are in a whole new continent but sure let’s make sure everyone comes to Paris. So it just feels arbitrary that everyone is here, and that’s even before we start adding in new characters like the deeply ill-conceived Nagini (Claudia Kim), which is not so much of an issue in this film, but deeply taints many aspects of the Harry Potter books/films. This is a problem, but what makes it worse is the characters in the film and their somewhat really bad motivations. In this film, Queenie falls to the dark side, in such a way that I assume the writers wanted you to feel sorry for her, but once again much like Anakin, I didn’t really care. Mostly because she is introduced having put Jacob under an enchantment spell which is deeply problematic. But her character motivations stem from being called on her behaviour and then getting lost in Paris, and that’s it. Well now let’s talk about the bland white elephant in the room and the addition of Johnny Depp to the cast. Even if we put aside all of the reasons why it was deeply problematic to cast Depp, he adds nothing to the film other than padding out the budget with like ten assistants in the credits. He is completely un-compelling as the big bad, and considering his whole shtick is about how charismatic he is, well sorry no.
All of this is not helped by some really stilted dialogue that makes me wonder if JK is a good novelist, but just not a good screenwriter. It also made a couple really odd choices with the canon that makes you go ‘What?’ So as well as the before mentioned Nagini issues, this is a film that introduces Professor Minerva McGonagall as a teacher at Hogwarts … before she was born … unless it was her mother? Also is France under the control of the British Ministry of Magic, because that is what it seems from the film and really? As well as this, there is the final reveal of the film so [SUPER SPOILERS]. It is revealed that Credence is actually a secret Dumbledore, which is bad because we had to sit through a whole film with some terrible Lestrange misdirection, but the reveal was so terrible there was an audible ‘are you kidding me’ vibe from my screening.
In the end, do we recommend Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald? No. As a film, it fails at almost every hurdle. It just felt like the film was cribbing notes from Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, and the Star Wars prequels, among others, and just does not work. It has been a long time since I have walked out of a film feeling not angry but just disappointed.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Directed by – David Yates
Written by – J. K. Rowling
Based on – Characters created by J. K. Rowling
Music by – James Newton Howard
Cinematography by – Philippe Rousselot
Edited by – Mark Day
Starring – Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Carmen Ejogo, Poppy Corby-Tuech & Brontis Jodorowsky
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13