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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) Review

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander
Katherine Waterston as Tina Goldstein
Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski
Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein
Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange
Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander
Claudia Kim as Nagini
William Nadylam as Yusuf Kama
Kevin Guthrie as Abernathy
Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore
Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald
Director: David Yates

In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) plans of raising pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists his former student Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided world.

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I was reasonably excited for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. I liked the first movie, despite it being reasonably decent and not being quite as great as I thought it would be, and I was interested in how the 5 Fantastic Beasts movies will go. My only concerns was Johnny Depp as the character of Gellert Grindelwald and how Newt Scamander was going to be integrated into the story (which is pretty much going to be a Dumbledore vs Grindelwald story). Having seen the movie I can say that thankfully I didn’t have the two problems that I thought I would have. However, it does present some problems of it own, including feeling a bit too overstuffed with characters and plotlines. With that said, I still really liked the movie.

There is something I wanted to get out of the way, I noticed a lot of people are complaining about how Fantastic Beasts isn’t as magical as Harry Potter. That never really bothered me, Fantastic Beasts is more adult based than the Harry Potter story, so while it does feature quite a bit of magic, I don’t really have a problem with the film not feeling as magical. Whereas the Harry Potter movies have younger characters experiencing the magical world for the first time, these films follow adults who are quite familiar with it. That is the case with The Crimes of Grindelwald, which also goes to darker places than probably the other Harry Potter movies (which is saying a lot). The first scene where Grindelwald escapes establishes the tone of the entire movie. While I was interested in what was happening in the plot from start to finish and on the whole was fine with what happened, there are some problems with the way that The Crimes of Grindelwald tells its story. The odd thing is that while the overall plot is more tied together, with it surrounding both Credence and Grindelwald (unlike Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them where it tried to be a movie focussing on Newt Scamander finding his beasts, an obscurus and Grindelwald, very different things all at once), it is way more complicated. I appreciate the movie going a more complex route, but it is a little too complicated for its own good. It does have some moments where it throws exposition at the audience and it can be really hard to follow what is going on, I think it will really require a second viewing. However, it’s not necessarily in a ‘this movie has a lot going on and there’s a lot to process’ compliment way, because some of the difficulty understanding comes from how the story is told. Part of it is because so many characters’ goals are related to similar things but they have their own subplots. That’s another thing, there are way too many characters here. With the first movie, along with the 4 main characters, there were a few supporting characters and that’s it. In The Crimes of Grindelwald however, along with the 4 main characters, it has like 12 supporting characters. Yes, I know that some of them have like 2/3 scenes at most and don’t all have subplots, but it doesn’t feel any less jarring. To give an idea about how many characters are in the movie, there is a poster for The Crimes of Grindelwald with the caption “Who Will Change The Future?” with a lot of characters on the poster. I suggest looking up that poster, because it pretty much shows how many prominent characters there are in this movie, and aside from a few of them, most of them have their own individual subplots. It’s exhausting to even think about. Overall, it’s like some of the characters they introduces here should’ve been introduced later, or have some of the characters’ subplots done later in the other movies, because having them all here makes it hard to follow.

J.K Rowling is the one writing the stories, so plotwise, all the problems fall on her. I have a feeling I know why the issues are here, Rowling probably structured the 5 movie story arc in the structure of books and so as an individual movie, it feels really jarring. I feel like it probably would’ve been better for her to have written the stories as books first before being adapted to the big screen. Another thing that will be a point of criticism are some really odd decisions that happen with regard to the direction of the plot. The first Fantastic Beasts introduces some new aspects to the Wizarding World such as the Obscurus but nothing really that conflicted with pre-existing Harry Potter history. Without saying too much, some fans are not going to like what is done here. It’s a bit of a difficult situation criticising the decisions of the creator of the series, it’s like arguing with George Lucas about the Star Wars prequels, no one knows the world quite like him (this is pre Disney Star Wars but you get what I’m meaning), and that’s the same with J.K. Rowling with Harry Potter. While initially I wasn’t sure why we needed 5 movies instead of 3 to tell this story, after the way things ended in The Crimes of Grindelwald, we are going to need as much time as possible to explain things. On the whole though, I was actually fine with the twists in the movie… with the exception with the last one. There is a twist at the end which is so insane that I’m actually wondering if I’m actually misinterpreting what it’s meaning and taking it at face value when really it’s different from what I think it is. I myself have problems even processing this decision, I can’t even dislike it because of how strange it is, I’m more confused than anything. It is difficult judging some of the decisions because so many of them are setup for the next movies, and we won’t know how well they are executed until we actually watch the later movies. As for the last twist though, Rowling is going to have to work extra hard to pull it off if it really is how it looks. In terms of things that I will blast Rowling for, there is an appearance of a well known character from the Harry Potter movies/books, this movie takes place in 1927 and this character hasn’t been born yet, yet somehow is making an appearance in 1935. I’m not sure how J.K. Rowling of all people could get one of her characters existing yet or not. Not a major plot issue but its extremely noticeable and stands out.

The performances all around were good, it’s just that some of the way the characters and their subplots were handled wasn’t the best. There were really 5 characters that worked the best compared to the others. Eddie Redmayne is still a fantastic choice for Newt Scamander, he’s awkward and likable and I like that he’s different enough compared to Harry Potter as a protagonist. While I wasn’t sure about him getting involved with the war against Grindelwald (because it just doesn’t seem like him), he is given an arc through the movie which really works for him that makes him relevant to the later movies, and I liked that. Dan Fogler returns as the muggle Jacob Kowalski and is just as likable as in the first movie, they do appropriately lessen his role as the comedic relief. He comes out better compared to the other supporting characters because he’s pretty much along with Newt for most of the movie. A surprise was Zoe Kravitz as Leta Lestrange. She has a dark and mysterious backstory which plays into the main story, it was one of the most interesting parts of the movie. Kravitz is also great in the role. Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore was also a highlight, you can definitely buy Law as a younger Dumbledore. With that said, don’t expect to see a ton of Dumbledore, he’s definitely a part of the movie but isn’t as prominent as you’d think. However, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of him in the next few movies. A lot of people had problems with the casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, both with him as an actor with his most recent performances and career choices, and with him as a person. While I still wish that someone else was in the role (because of Depp as a person), acting wise he surprised me, this is his best performance since Black Mass. Unlike most of his performances where he can be rather over the top, Depp is refreshingly subtle and restrained, yet totally committed to the role. The only thing goofy about Grindelwald is his look, although its distinct, it may have been a little over the top. They really made Grindelwald distinct enough from Voldemort, being a much more public figure, and you can see why so many people would follow him. I wouldn’t say he’s great just yet, cos we haven’t really gotten to know Grindelwald yet as a character or seen his backstory, we’ll just have to see how the next 3 movies go.

The rest of the characters are played well enough but they weren’t handled the best. Katherine Waterston’s Tina Goldstein doesn’t really get much to do, she’s tracking down Credence and that’s really all there is to her, that aren’t really enough scenes with her outside of that. The most we really get is the potential romance between her and Newt, but even that doesn’t really amount to much by the end. There are particularly some things in the third act that don’t really have enough of Tina (hard to explain in a non spoiler review). Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein was the weaker link out of the main 4 characters in the first movie, not because of the acting but there wasn’t a ton of things for her to do. Here she has a bit of an interesting arc which is great on paper, but the way they execute it isn’t the best. She’s like completely separate from the other characters and has her own subplot but you see her like every once every 30 minutes. It’s like there were more scenes of her development that are missing, so her changes are jarring and out of place. Having more scenes would’ve benefited her arc and really fleshed it out. While it is an interesting place she’s been taken by the end of the second movie, I’m sure they could’ve executed it better. There is another plotline following William Nadylam as Yusuf Kama, a wizard tracking down Credence. While he does work within the movie and ties in with the story, it really adds another complicated element into the movie, and the plot is already pretty complicated. Callum Turner as Theseus Scamander, an aurora and Newt’s brother, is decent enough but don’t add a ton. As much as I bag on the way that the characters are used in this movie, I can’t complain much about him here. You do understand though why he is here and he’s used in enough scenes. That’s more than I can say then Claudia Kim as Nagini, Kim does a fine job playing her but plotwise Nagini really didn’t need to be there and doesn’t add much outside of some nice snake transformation scenes. Maybe it’s establishing her for later sequels but it better be something significant, otherwise it just feels like J.K. Rowling is trying to establish and include literally every character that existed before Harry Potter. Thankfully Nagini doesn’t have her own subplot to take up even more time, she is paired with Credence, played by Ezra Miller. Speaking of Credence, despite the movie basically surrounding him, it doesn’t exactly handle him the best. He was actually a standout in the first movie, mostly due to Miller’s performance. The Crimes of Grindelwald really needed more of him and really explore him but however that’s not what happens. Despite his whole ‘arc’ being about him trying to find out who he is, he feels more like a plot device and not a character at all, going through the motions because that’s what the plot requires. Definitely the most disappointing of the characters in this movie.

David Yates directs The Crimes of Grindelwald, and once again he does a good job. There’s nothing really wrong with his direction but it would be nice to have some new person taking over, with a more fresh direction. He’s directed all the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts movies since Order of the Phoenix and I think Yates may have relaxed a little too much into his direction of these movies. Again though, nothing really wrong direction-wise. The only direction that was out of place was in Newt’s first scene which for some reason used a lot of POV shots for him and I don’t know why, it was a little distracting. It’s not a dealbreaker, just out of place. The production design and costumes are once again fantastic, the scenes at Hogwarts are particularly a highlight and it feels great to revisit it, even if we aren’t there for long or very often. The CGI on the whole was great, slightly improved over the first movie. The magical sequences are really great to watch, the highlights being the opening scene and the third act. Despite the movie being more Grindelwald focussed, we still get to see a lot of magical creatures through Newt and once again they are great. James Newton Howard’s score as in the first movie was fantastic, it really fits in well with this series.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is really unexpected in many ways. It has some really good performances, a plot that keeps you invested throughout (at least it did for me) and some really great sequences. At the same time, it is overstuffed with too many characters, too many subplots and has some very questionable decisions. As it stands at the moment, I think I like The Crimes of Grindelwald a little more than the first movie because of what the story is about and some of the moments of the movie, even though the first is considerably less messy. Honestly, I can’t tell what you’ll think about the movie. I’d say that if you’re not a die hard Harry Potter fan you might not enjoy it as much, but I already can tell that this movie is going to divide the fandom, it’s going to be pretty much the Alien Covenant for the Harry Potter series. If you like Harry Potter, watch it and see for yourself, because I can’t tell whether you’ll like it or not. I’m still on board for the 3 remaining movies but I really do hope that J.K. Rowling pulls it off, because The Crimes of Grindelwald does make me a little concerned about whether she’ll be able to do that.