Directed by: David Yates
Premise: A sequel to the 2016 film. Renegade wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes custody and rallies others to his cause. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is recruited to find a young man with unique magical powers.
What Works: The film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s magical universe, now officially called the Wizarding World, have successfully mixed fanciful whimsy with a tactile visual style. That continues to be true in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, which has some great looking locations. As in the first film, the fantastic creatures are the highlight of the show and the movie is at its best whenever Newt Scamander wrangles some magical beast. The Crimes of Grindelwald casts Johnny Depp in the title role as the villainous wizard. Although Depp isn’t given much to do, he is quite effective. In a departure from his recent performances, Depp is restrained and his quiet intensity is frightening. To the filmmakers’ credit, Grindelwald is given a persuasive argument and even though he is clearly a villain it’s credible that some of the characters would find his message appealing. Had the film dug into this more meaningfully The Crimes of Grindelwald might have been a better movie.
What Doesn’t: Writer and creator J.K. Rowling previously announced that Fantastic Beasts would be a five film series and so she presumably knows where this story is going. That makes The Crimes of Grindelwald all the more frustrating because it is such an unfocused and slap dash production. Some of the faults are in the filmmaking. The set pieces are cut together so frantically that the action doesn’t make sense. But the persistent problem is the story. It’s a mess. The Crimes of Grindelwald is a morass of subplots and characters. The movie plunges us into the action without a narrative guardrail. There’s no making sense of what’s happening on screen but there’s also no reason to care. It’s not clear who anyone is, what they want, where they are going, or why. A few new characters are introduced but they aren’t established as people with personalities and the returning characters exit this story virtually the same way they came in. There is no coherent conflict nor does anyone in this movie have a discernible goal. What they do is talk and The Crimes of Grindelwald frequently stops to dump exposition but it obfuscates instead of clarifies. The storytelling is choppy. One scene doesn’t lead logically to the next and it often feels as though chunks of the narrative are missing. The big reveal in the end is stupid and it doesn’t have any dramatic impact because it’s just another meaningless event. The Crimes of Grindelwald suggests a political allegory but the filmmakers don’t do anything meaningful with it because the story is so saddled with irrelevant backstories. The film also disappoints in the way it retreats from the innovations of the previous Fantastic Beasts movie. The Wizarding World has a lot of potential for all kinds of stories but The Crimes of Grindelwald just rehashes the same old themes that were done better in the Harry Potter series.
Bottom Line: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a major letdown and the worst film in the Wizarding World franchise. This isn’t really a story. It’s an incoherent slog of exposition occasionally interrupted by special effects. The Crimes of Grindelwald has none of the qualities that made the Harry Potter films, even the lesser entries, so enjoyable.
Episode: #727 (December 2, 2018)