Director: David Yates
Writer: J.K. Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz, Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) began a new global obsession with the world of magic. The Crimes of Grindlewald has come dangerously close to derailing that obsession.
Six months after his capture at the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the dark wizard Grindlewald escapes and sets out on a mission to find the tormented Credence. Knowing his power, Albus Dumbledore enlists Newt Scamander on a magical mission to disrupt Grindlewald's plans. It's one more in a long line of magical adventures, but while its predecessors each brought their own unique brand of excitement and adventure, The Crimes of Grindlewald struggles to provide anything new for audiences to sink their teeth into.
Much like Where to Find Them and the wider Harry Potter universe, The Crimes of Grindlewald continues to be delightfully magical, providing yet more fantastic examples of witchcraft and wizardry in mesmerising action. Every instalment of the franchise has provided us with something fresh, and The Crimes of Grindlewald is no exception, proving that this particular film universe can boast one of the most vivid imaginations. It continues to explore this wonderful world not only magically but also geographically, this time taking us on a trip to the French Ministry of Magic. As world-building goes, the Fantastic Beasts franchise is an absolute masterclass, simultaneously capturing the magic of its spawning franchise and conjuring up some of its own. Speaking of its cinematic older brother, a hugely welcome return to Hogwarts and its bizarre magical lessons is impossible to dislike and gives a gigantic shock of nostalgia strong enough to knock you over as we soar high above the iconic castle while the original theme music is resurrected.
It looks and sounds utterly beautiful, and almost makes you wish that the earlier Harry Potter films had benefitted from the same calibre of special effects and set design. We are given sweeping aerial views of ornate ministry buildings and visit the stunning grassy mountains surrounding Hogwarts, all set to a wonderfully delicate but powerful soundtrack. The latest 'beasts' are as inventive as they were in the first instalment, although their emphasis on the film's plot is far less in The Crimes of Grindlewald, serving mainly as decoration.
However, as many recent films have learned the hard way, good looks only get you so far, and despite having a pretty appearance the second Fantastic Beasts instalment has significant less going on underneath. The Crimes of Grindlewald's problems lie in its story, or rather, its lack of; despite stretching over more than two hours, not much happens. The Crimes of Grindlewald amounts to little more than a heap of exposition which has the sole purpose of setting up the next film in the series. Whereas Where to Find Them was nicely self-contained and had its own purposeful narrative, The Crimes of Grindlewald does little more than introduce new characters and set various things in motion, leading to be, narratively at least, quite forgettable. It is perhaps both sensible and necessary to have one of the five planned Fantastic Beasts films dedicated to propping up the scaffolding for the wider storyline, but this doesn't stop it from being disappointing to watch, disappointment which is hugely amplified due to its predecessor's phenomenal success.
Jude Law's debut as the convivial Albus Dumbledore is suitably flamboyant without going over the top, and he nails the younger version of the endlessly likeable character first embodied by the powerhouse actors Richard Harris and Michael Gambon. While he perfectly captures the unwavering righteousness and sturdy gentleness of the more familiar older version of the character, his relatively modest screen time hints at a youthful athleticism and power which will hopefully be later revealed. He has certainly been well cast, and will be an integral part of the franchise if he is given more of an opportunity to explore this warming but mysterious character.
Eddie Redmayne continues to shine as Newt, but his scruffy awkwardness is far less endearing than it was during the character's debut, perhaps due to the dual performances of Law and Depp swallowing a lot of the focus. His relationship with Tina (Waterston) has also lost a lot of its potency, as has the one between Jacob and Queenie. Each of the four leads from Where to Find Them perfectly reassume their roles, but aren't afforded the same attention as they were the first time round, this time being little more than cogs in a much larger machine, rather than being the engine driving the film forward.
Johnny Depp's (proper) introduction as the titular Grindlewald is brilliantly sinister, and his dangerousness is clearly communicated by the brutally secure prison transfer which forms the film's opening set-piece. Beyond this, however, his character may be a little underserved, his scenes telling us more about his nefarious plan than about Grindlewald himself. From when he was revealed at the end of Where to Find Them to his final moments in The Crimes of Grindlewald, the character makes very little movement forward - surprising, considering the film's title. Depp works very well with what he does have however, his dark wizard being a silky blend of elegance and arrogance who threatens to be an extremely charismatic and formidable villain in the film's next few instalments.
The Crimes of Grindleward might be stuffed full of magic, but in reality it's quite empty. You might be fooled into thinking otherwise by the racing chase scenes and various introductions to interesting magical beasts but after some thought it becomes obvious that, despite the introduction of talent, The Crimes of Grindlewald simply lacks any of the identity or character with which the first film was brimming.
In one line: Good looks seems to be the only thing that The Crimes of Grindlewald inherited from its predecessor, lacking the spark and the charisma which made the first Fantastic Beasts instalment so incredibly gripping and fun.