Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opened in November of 2016 to large success. The first film in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter prequel series, it introduced audiences to new characters and environments in the Wizarding World, such as the charmingly lovable Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne. Two years later, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald released. The second installment in the series promised everything the first delivered and more. With new iconic Harry Potter names such as Dumbledore, Grindelwald, Lestrange, Nagini, and Flammel being thrown into the mix, the hype level had grown tremendously.
I am a massive Harry Potter fan. I’ve seen all the movies multiple times, read all the books, and adore the entire franchise. I loved the first Fantastic Beasts, and I will be the first one to say how excited I was its sequel. In this review, there will be SPOILERS for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Now that you’ve been warned, here’s your first spoiler: this film is not good.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is painfully bad. It’s easily the worst Harry Potter film to date, and it’s not even a contest. In every other Harry Potter movie, there are moments of greatness. Even in the lesser ones, there are moments that shine through. Crimes of Grindelwald has none of these. It’s a run-of-the-mill cash-grab sequel that makes much of the Harry Potter lore murky with inconsistency.
The biggest issues with this film are within the plot itself. It progresses so slowly that you may find yourself becoming bored with the movie very quickly. This entire movie could be condensed into 30 minutes and accomplish everything it needs to accomplish in terms of telling its entire story.
Beyond its pacing, the plot is also very unfocused, in that it will jump around from character to character and motivation to motivation, so much so that it makes the film hard to follow. There are so many moving pieces, many of which don’t even need to be in the film at all. Every character wants something different. For example: Credence wants to find his lineage, Grindelwald wants Credence, Dumbledore wants Newt to stop Grindelwald, Newt wants to find Tina, Tina wants to get away from Newt, Kowalski wants to repair his relationship with Queenie, Queenie wants to find Tina (and then randomly decides to follow Grindelwald). See? It’s a lot to handle, and it’s extremely easy to get lost in and lose track of what’s happening.
On top of those issues, there are some things that happen the film that are simply odd. Occurrences that seem to only occur to promote the plot, but have no explanation behind it. For example, Kowalski supposedly had his memory wiped at the end of the first film, right? In Crimes of Grindelwald, he returns, and the explanation for how he remembers everything from the first film is that… it simply didn’t work. Forget about the emotional scene in Fantastic Beasts where he walks out into the rain to get his memory wiped and forget his new friends, because that doesn’t mean anything anymore. Why? It didn’t work! Could all these issues be a result of lazy writing?
Although Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t a good film, by no means does that mean that there aren’t certain aspects of the film which are good. Most of the characters in this film are done well. Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is just as lovable and quirky as he was in the first film, and Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski remains the funny no-maj. Jude Law’s Albus Dumbledore was a quick standout, the only problem with his character is that there wasn’t enough of him! I also found Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone to be another great addition, as he was in the first.
Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the list goes with great characters in this film. There are a few characters who seem to serve little to no purpose, the chief of these being Nagini. Nagini accompanies Credence on his journey to find his lineage, but truly does… nothing… in the process. She’s just… there. It seems as if Rowling thought that she needed one more familiar character to catch people’s attention, so she decided to make Nagini a Korean woman. It just doesn’t work. You could probably remove every shot that Nagini is in, and this film would remain unchanged.
On the topic of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, I believe he did a pretty average job. That’s not on Depp, who has shown his capability and acting prowess. Grindelwald as a character is simply boring. With what he was given, I’m not sure what else Depp could’ve done to make Grindelwald more menacing or interesting. The opening sequence where he breaks out of prison is strong, but there’s not much he does after that. He certainly does not live up to what the title “Crimes of Grindelwald” suggests. Hopefully in future installments (if they follow through with them), they can deliver a script that utilizes him better.
This brings me to my final point: JK Rowling’s script. Don’t get me wrong, Rowling is a fabulous writer and her Harry Potter books are that of legend, but Crimes of Grindelwald is a massive misfire for her. There are many things that happen in this movie that make the Harry Potter lore a tad bit confusing to longtime fans. Things such as Professor McGonagall’s appearance in a film dated 8 years before her recorded birth, or Voldemort’s loyal pet Nagini actually being a human woman the whole time. The major issue here is at the very end, when it is revealed that Credence is actually Albus Dumbledore’s brother, Aurelius. Due to the events of preview Harry Potter films, we know the events of the Dumbledore family, with Aberforth, Albus, and Ariana Dumbledore. Where does Credence, or Aurelius, fit into this mix?
It seems as though most of the film’s issues can be chalked up to poor, lazy writing, and that’s something that’s hard to say about a distinguished writer such as Rowling. However, that’s what it comes down to.
In conclusion, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is an extremely underwhelming film that puts the first blemish on the Harry Potter franchise. If WB is to follow through with the 3 more movies they have planned in this franchise, we can hope that they handle them better. Otherwise, Potterheads, you may have a Hobbit trilogy of your own.