Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (aka Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
J.K. Rowling has made a big mistake with The Crimes of Grindelwald; she has focused too heavily on the lore and rewritten her own continuity. I could already hear the fans up in arms as she spins such tales as Dumbledore’s sordid lineage and the reworking of Nagini as half-human/half-snake rather than just being Voldemort’s pet. She has become the new George Lucas, where fans with froth for her own franchise to be ripped from her hands.
Whatever. Not as heavily engrossed in the Wizarding World lore to become hung up on how little of Fantastic Beasts syncs up with the Harry Potter timeline, I can overlook her retooling so long as I can get into the story and characters. The first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I dug for setting up a new world outside of Hogwarts; the American Ministry of Magic was a fascinating sight with its many systems of mail delivery and imprisonment. Now the story shifts to Paris, France and there’s very little that’s new to showcase. Aside from a circus that packs up quickly, the wonder seems lost in this franchise that is settling too much for its messy politics and character arcs to carry the appeal.
It’s unfortunate that the heroes and villains are going through the same motions yet again. Magical zoologist Newt (Eddie Redmayne) is still too shy to either work for the British Ministry of Magic, choose a side in the war of maintaining wizard peace, and confess his love for the magical officer Tina (Katherine Waterston). He’d much rather tottle around France trying to find the right words for Tina than combat the more immediate threat of the evil wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) riling up the wizard masses to go to war with the muggles. And so we have another balance of the dark (Grindelwald) and the whimsical (Newt).
The problem is that both arcs never become that engaging as they’re continuously crowded with extra padding. Similar to Newt, Grindelwald is too shy to recruit the cursed threat of Credence (Ezra Miller) directly. He’d rather convince the young boy to come to him through a series of overly complicated manipulations in history, staging of assassinations, and hiring of assassins. And through this messy plot, too many characters are thrown into the mix. Casting Jude Law as a young Dumbledore is a great idea but he’s unfortunately pushed to the side as little more than a footnote for this film. The wizard Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) has a sordid history involving Credence but following her struggle and pathos, coupled with a ridiculous murder-mystery twist, ultimately leads nowhere. And there are probably at least a dozen other characters weaved into this story as well that only further complicate the script.
Why is Rowling trying to write the Harry Potter equal of Syriana? This should be an adventurous fantasy but even the return of the plucky muggle Jacob (Dan Fogler) feels tacked on. And how much fun can you have with a film that involves zapped toddlers, drowning babies, and Grindelwald literally showcasing the future of the Holocaust? Even the darkest days of Hogwarts seem quaint compared to this sloppy story that seems to believe overcomplicating the plot somehow makes it more adult. I should’ve suspected as much when the previous film relied on Giggle Juice for laughs.
Pardon the cliche but the Wizarding World has lost its magic. Whereas the previous films always felt as though they had real character and goals to drive past all the muck of sifting through wizard terms and lore, Crimes of Grindelwald offers no comfort. You’re either stooped enough in the Potterness for the long haul or you’re going to get left in the dust. And since I never so much as picked up a Harry Potter guide or read through a fistful of online babblings, it’s mighty dusty back here.