“Crimes of Grindelwald” less than fantastic

Illustration by Raya Deussen

By William Mayhew

In 2007, “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows” was released and fans thought that J.K. Rowling might be done exploring the wizarding world. That is until she started releasing supplementary work online, gave her approval to a Harry Potter fanfiction being performed on stage, and started writing movies set before the original series. Many fans and critics felt that “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” paled in comparison to her original novels. Does “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” do a better job recapturing the old magic?

The film’s largest flaw is that it tries to cram far too many subplots and new characters into its approximately two hour and 10 minute runtime. While the intention behind this was clearly to set up the next three movies, its main accomplishment is making it a challenge to review the film in a concise way. While it’s certainly not impossible for a film to deftly juggle a large cast, the poor execution in this film ends up leading to scenes such as the one shortly before the climax, in which a character who had only appeared in a few scenes and barely spoken suddenly gives a monologue to explain why he was actually important to the story.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) continues to be the best developed character in the series. But while seeing more of Newt and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) hanging out is entertaining, it’s a shame that many other characters are shorted by limited screen time. For example, Queenie (Alison Sudol), one of the best characters from the first movie, seems to have undergone significant personality changes between movies and makes decisions for reasons that can be best summarized as, “because plot.”

As the title implies, this film follows up dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp)’s surprisingly weak introduction at the end of the previous film and attempts to develop his character. While Depp’s casting is rightfully controversial, it is at least a pleasant surprise that his performance consists of more than a weird accent. A less pleasant surprise is that the film spends far more time showing other characters talking about what a brilliantly manipulative speaker Grindelwald is than it spends showing Grindelwald living up to this reputation.

There are a few areas where the film does shine. The actors are clearly putting plenty of effort into their performances, making the film consistently engaging. Furthermore, the visuals are excellent. It is clear that Rowling still has plenty of ideas for creatures and locations to add into the franchise, which does bode well for sequels.

Fascinatingly, the problems with “Crimes of Grindelwald” seem to be the opposite of the flaws that its predecessor had. The first film told a relatively simple story, but failed to give the audience a clear picture of how it would lead to four more movies. Conversely, “Crimes of Grindelwald” spends so much time setting up future films that it’s own story ends up underdeveloped. The film gets crushed under the weight of its own ambition and, unlike a human soul in the Potterverse, might have been better off being split into two or more parts.

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