You know that thing where you’ve been saying something for years and then everyone jumps on the bandwagon? I feel like that about JK Rowling. I’ve been ranting about that woman and the damage she’s causing the Harry Potter series for years and now, all of a sudden, it seems that people are finally catching up with me. It was way back in 2012 that I first started complaining about her ability to fuck shit up. Then, with every passing year and every new revelation, I’ve continually begged her to just leave the series alone. I was definitely in the minority back in those days. Now? Now I’m reading articles in The Guardian saying exactly what I’ve been saying. It’s really infuriating. But also good, I guess. It helps to know that I’m not just being petty. That I’m not just targeting a famous and successful writer to make myself feel important. I’m just a fan who is sick of this dead horse being flogged for everything it’s worth. A fan who went into the new Fantastic Beasts film expecting to come out in an absolute rage because I’d already reached my limit thanks to the Nagini and McGonagall news. Plus, you know, Johnny Depp.
Before really starting to write this review, I looked back on the post I had written about the first film. I went in not expecting much but came away from it with so much hope about the franchise. It was so full of fun and charm that none of the faults seemed to matter. Yet, I was also well aware that the whole premise would start to get tired eventually. So here we are, two years later and I really want to yell “I told you so!” The second of five films is here and, already, we’re looking a little thin on the old plot front. However, I had to admit that I left this film surprised by how much I liked it. To be fair though, I did really think I’d hate it so to say it went above my expectations isn’t saying much.
The film starts a year after the events of the first film when Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is being transported to Europe to stand trial for his crimes. Obviously, he is able to stage a daring escape and makes his way to Paris. We’re told that it is in Paris that Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) is now living having, apparently, made it out of the first film alive (though nobody ever bothers to explain how). Grindelwald hopes to get Credence to join his side in the fight against Muggles and Dumbledore. But he’s not the only one on the case. Dumbledore himself (Jude Law) persuades Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to travel to France who discovers that Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is also tracking Credence. Oh, and both Queenie and Jacob (Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler) get mixed up in the search as they continue fighting for their right to love each other.
Meanwhile, Credence is on his own mission to find his long-lost mother. All he wants is to find a family and get the love he so desperately needs. Travelling with a wizarding freak show, Credence has found companionship in the Maledictus Nagini (Claudia Kim). During these days, Nagini is a young woman carrying a blood which gives her the ability to turn into a snake but, as we now know, will one day become permanent. The pair escape their new master to confront the woman who left him with his cruel guardian. With Grindelwald amassing a bunch of new followers, can he actually achieve what he wants and persuade Credence to join him?
The first film in this franchise was so successful for a number of reasons: Eddie Redmayne was brilliantly charming as the socially awkward hero Newt, the beasts that we met were all interesting and super adorable, and the magical community of New York city was a wonderful addition to the wizarding world. The Crimes of Grindelwald is sadly lacking in similar areas. Eddie Redmayne continues to thrive as Newt and, thanks to a lessening of Newt’s awkward ticks, becomes even more of a lovable front man. But, when it comes down to it, there aren’t enough beasts and neither London or Paris are as well realised as New York was. They are both just circumstantial locations that we never get to grips with. This film isn’t as big on the small details this time.
The Crimes of Grindelwald feels more like a place setter for a future film than it does a story in its own right. When it comes to down to it, very little of what the returning characters do actually matters. Newt and co could have done nothing and it would basically have turned out the same. This film is filler and the writers clearly know they don’t have enough story for it. That’s why there is so much fan service and so many attempts to connect it to the Harry Potter franchise. The first film was happy to, mostly, keep itself separate from the films that have come before but not the sequel. The sequel shoehorns in as many familiar faces and call-backs as it possibly can, whether it makes sense or not.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is an undeniable mess. There are so many plot strands being played out that the narrative is clunky. It is slow-paced and there is no real sense of urgency here. The sub-plots take so much of the focus that the streamlined narrative of the first film is a distant memory. It’s the kind of thing that works for a novel, where you have the luxury to go into detail, but it just makes the film seem overly long and distracted. And it means so many wonderful performers get short-changed. I honestly don’t know why Katherine Waterston bothered coming back as she has clearly been relegated to love interest and lost any of the sass that I loved so much in the first one. Alison Sudol, too, suffers from a sudden personality change. In the first film she was a sweet and kind witch but, in the sequel, she is almost unrecognisable in her brattiness. Even Ezra Miller, an exciting actor, is watered down here.
It’s rally fucking frustrating. You can’t escape the feeling that we’re just waiting for the big thing to come. We’re watching endless previews until the final battle has been written. It’s not an unpleasant film, at all but it’s not giving us enough. Of course, there are some positives I should embrace. The scene where Grindelwald addresses his followers is truly memorable as we see him embrace everything manipulative tactic that we’ve seen in the great dictators of our history. And Jude Law does a pretty good job as the younger Dumbledore, though I found his ridiculous accent to be super grating. The Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t a bad film. It’s just, we can’t pretend it’s a good one either. It’s just a desperate and uninspired cash-grab. Something we’ve all come to expect from JK Rowling and Warner Bros at this point.