I keep expecting more from this Harry Potter spin-off, but it doesn’t seem to be in the cards…at least not for this one.
A sequel to the original Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but still in that prequel timeframe before the Harry Potter saga, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald picks up shortly after the first entry in the series, and follows our main protagonist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), as he embarks on a quest to find the still mysterious and powerful Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) and, of course, tame a bunch of fantastic beasts along the way. Joined by his usual gang of friends in Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), Newt is asked by the one and only Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to complete this mission as best he can. But with new and old enemies alike hot on Newt and Credence’s trail, will our favorite magizoologist be able to accomplished what is asked of him, or fail and leave the world even more vulnerable to the evil machinations of escaped convict and dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp)?
Right off the bat this film seemed to be on solid footing. The great opening scene and introduction to the titular baddie really had me itching to delve back into the Wizarding World and experience the wonders of J.K. Rowling’s magical universe for the umpteenth time. But as the film dragged on, I started to realize that this movie wasn’t going to scratch that itch. It wasn’t going to be the film I was hoping for, nor the film that I thought the original would be, no, The Crimes of Grindelwald yet again feels safe and stagnant even with all of the glorious bells and whistles associated with the magical aspect of the series, and unfortunately, that amounts to nothing more than a completely average film in more ways than one.
Usually I wouldn’t have much of a problem with that, but the sheer potential of a series like this demands far more than what is presented here and what continues to be presented. Sure, reveals were made and characters affected, but I never once seemed to care about the plot or the various (read: too many) subplots all jumbled up with what I perceived to be the main driving force of the story. For every great and brilliant scene there are three that drag and pad out the story for what I can only assume the filmmakers felt were important and pivotal character and story scenes. In reality, they’re the opposite, dragging the pacing down to a grinding halt in places through completely unnecessary and roundabout ways, while further muddying what is already an overflowing narrative. The cast is great as usual, including the oddly subdued Johnny Depp as Grindelwald and nearly perfect depiction of a young Dumbledore by Jude Law, but the minute attention paid to each individually really started to annoy me the more it went on. Do I need yet another scene of Jacob and Queenie having the same conversation about not being able to marry due to his muggle-ness and her magical tendencies? Nope, I get it. Do I need more interactions between characters that I’m supposed to care about but can barely follow story-wise due to the sheer amount of content being thrown at me? Nope, I’d rather you cut fifteen minutes and continue to deliver on the magic and wonder instead.
It’s at these points that The Crimes of Grindelwald disappoints more than wows. The fact that this film yet again seems to be treading water in order to put the series in a spot that will finally allow the real meat and potatoes of this franchise to work is just plain lazy and frustrating. With five movies planned for this franchise and no clear point to it all, it becomes more of a waiting game than anything of real importance. The film is long, so there’s a lot going on, but it seems almost too short in regards to what the filmmakers are trying to accomplish, and it’s here that I’m most disappointed.
All that being said, I can’t complain about anything in regards to the magical aspects of the film. By now, franchise director David Yates has so many Harry Potter films under his belt that it’s a wonder why he keeps going, especially now that he has nothing more to prove to audiences. Luckily, his handling of what most fans come for – the magic – is mostly well done with scenes of pure excitement and wonder popping up just at the right times to keep the shoddy pacing from completely dismantling the film. Scenes like the one centering on a whimsical traveling circus, or the ones inside Newt’s bastion of fantastic beasts, or even the exciting ending that delivers more on spectacle than story are what kept me intrigued throughout even when the talking head scenes made me groan with boredom.
While not a bad movie by any means, The Crimes of Grindelwald leaves a lot to be desired in regards to the coherency of the plot and the events that unfold throughout. There’s a bunch of great fan service moments and connections to earlier films in the HP saga, but the too long/too short feel of the film, coupled with some truly bad pacing keeps this one from being the film I’ve been waiting and hoping for. On the flipside, the action is fantastic and the magic and special effects are explosive and wondrous, I was just expecting a bit more overall, especially after the first film went with the same “play it safe” mentality. Here’s hoping that the next sequel will really start to hone in on what the entire point of this series is instead of simply treading water to set up a future sequel where we’ll no doubt finally get what we’ve been looking for.