Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Callum Turner, Johnny Depp and Jude Law
Written by JK Rowling
Directed by David Yates
First of all, this is not a Harry Potter movie.
Even though this film and the previous one Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are set in the same world as Harry Potter and feature many of the same characters from that series, this film is more adult in both tone and plot.
After the events of the first film, dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is being deported back to England from New York. In a harrowing and exciting opening sequence, the dark wizard escapes. We are not only given a glimpse at the powers of Grindelwald, but also the fact that he has people everywhere.
Months later, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) finds himself at the Ministry of Magic trying to get his travel ban lifted after the events in New York. At this point we are introduced to the Scamander family drama, which is not that compelling and frankly, would have been more interesting if explored a little further. Newt’s brother Theseus offers him a deal; his travel ban will be lifted if he agrees to hunt down Creedence (Ezra Miller). He refuses and we are introduced to Theseus’ fiance and Newt’s former crush Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz).
Leta’s story is entwined in the overall plot as well as Creedence’s story and it is one of the most tragic and compelling parts of a pretty dark film. There is no shortage of tragedy and death in this film in both Creedence and Lita’s stories and the connection they share is the darkest part of this or any other wizarding world film.
Above everything else, Crimes of Grindelwald is not a happy, feel good exploration of the world of magic that we’ve been used to seeing in previous films from the world JK Rowling created. This film takes on some serious subject matter and even the lighter characters from the first film Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler) have a pretty dark and depressing continuation of their story in this film, complete with a betrayal that might not be easily resolved.
Jude Law’s Dumbledore is used sparingly in the film. Most of his scenes are dedicated to why he can’t move against Grindelwald while everyone wants him to. You can see the quiet desperation to want to help in Law’s performance and the reason he doesn’t is more layered than one would suspect. The highlight of his being in the film is that we get a return to Hogwart’s both in person and in the memories of Leta Lestrange.
The darker side of the wizarding world seems to take most of the focus of the film with storylines regarding the laws against wizards and muggles marrying as well as the secrecy laws are breeding grounds for a villain like Gellert Grindelwald to feed on while he raises an army of followers with the goal of domination and “freedom” for witches and wizards. Depp does a good job of channeling a kind of menacing charm as Grindelwald. He allows others to live out their prejudices while he quietly stokes their anger and fear.
His plan seems muddled for most of the film with the audience wondering why he is so interested in Creedence to the point of seemingly herding him into a confrontation with Leta Lestrange, but the reveal at the end of the film clears everything up with an interesting and unexpected twist.
All of the performances in the film were great. The only characters that I think got the short end of the stick were Newt and Tina (Katherine Waterston). They were so much a focus of the first film both in their personal relationship as well as their individual stories that you notice how little they really factor into this sequel. There is little evolution of their story and they seem to be along for the ride for much of the film.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is visually beautiful with amazing performances by the cast. While I enjoyed the experience and want to see where the story goes from here, I will admit that the film lacked a level of fun and wonder that I expect from Rowling’s wizarding world.