The Wizarding World franchise didn’t get off to the best pos Harry Potter start when Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came out two years ago, it opened to ok reviews, but was in reality a complete mess of a film. This had led to a general feeling of apathy towards Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, from myself and much of the film community. However I couldn’t help but get excited as we entered the final couple of days before release, this was a new film in the Harry Potter universe after all.
In the first Fantastic Beasts there was so much going on that it was such an incomprehensible jumble of tones and story lines that never came together in any kind of satisfying way, and marks a pretty substantial failure from J. K. Rowling and David Yates as the writer and director. In this new film however there is still just as much going on, but they both manage to bring it all together in one fantastic crescendo of a finale. Whilst the first didn’t know what it wanted to be, with the tone going from so dark and depressing with Credence’s story to slapstick as Newt chased his creatures around, and the throwing in a more traditional Harry Potter tone as it dealt with Grindelwald. The Crimes of Grindelwald however is far more consistent, everything is about Grindelwald and his attempts to win Credence over to his side, whilst Newt and several other forces try to prevent this.
This of course involved the introduction of several key new characters, the main ones of course being Johnny Depp as the titular Grindelwald and Jude Law as the ever popular Albus Dumbledore. These additions are sadly some of the film’s weaker elements. For the majority if the film Depp is bad as Grindelwald. He is playing the same annoying character that Depp has been stuck in for about 10 years now. However his performance in the climax of the film almost makes this forgivable because he finally comes to life for the first time since one of the early Pirates of the Caribbean films. Jude Law doesn’t give a bad performance, on the contrary he’s warm and likeable, but he never feels like Dumbledore, which is a problem when he’s playing one of the most beloved characters in modern popular culture.
We get to see how Dumbledore was a key figure in Newt Scamander’s life, pushing him into being in New York at the right time during the events of the first film, and playing a more direct part in Newt being drawn back into the conflict. We also get to see more figures from Newt’s life in the form of two Ministry of Magic employees, including his brother Theseus, who was mentioned as a war hero in the first film, and a former friend/flame of Newt’s Leta Lestrange. Brought to life by Callum Turner and Zoë Kravitz, both do great jobs, and have rich and complicated relationships with Newt that are well explored in this film, and hopefully will continue to be in the upcoming sequels.
There is of course the return of the other key players in the first film, in Newt’s muggle friend Jacob, as well as MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) employee Tina and her sister Queenie. Queenie and Jacob’s relationship was one of the key emotional pieces of the first film, and it felt like bringing Jacob back might cheapen the moving goodbye they originally had, but it works surprisingly well. Their story really goes to some interesting and quite unexpected places, but it absolutely worked for me. What doesn’t is Newt’s relationship with Tina, they had their moments in the first film, but I just never really got on board with Katherine Waterston’s performance in the role. I don’t know if that is coming from her or Yates’ direction, but I still struggle the character and, whilst it brings some comedy, her and Newt’s will they/won’ they.
I do also have issues with some of the more referential aspects of the film. Some of the name dropping in the first has been taken up a notch with full blown appearances by characters such as Nagini and Nicolas Flamel, both of which were revealed in the trailers, and neither of which get much more than that to do. This was one of my biggest problems with Rogue One as a prequel as well, sometimes these self referential nod-nod-wink-wink moments just end up distracting a little from what is happening, particularly if they end up adding nothing.
I believe that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will absolutely enchant hardcore fans of the Wizarding World franchise, but will probably be a harder sell for some of the more casual fans because it lays the lore on thick and fast.
As for me, someone more in the middle who loved the world from J. K. Rowling’s books but has a far more hot and cold relationship with the films, I loved this one. It looks stunning, moves along at a good pace, and is packed with cool world building moments, but feels far more focused than the previous film. There are issues, but if you’re a Potter fan, then this will thoroughly entertain you, and leave you excited for more.