How can something that’s supposed to be so magical feel like so much work to get through? Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a very difficult-to-follow sequel to 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them–which is a good film, even if it does have a couple of its own problems. But Crimes of Grindelwald has more than just a few issues.
There are a lot of plot details in the first film, but this one unloads even more. Plus we get a ton of unexplained references to the last movie. Apparently the filmmakers figured fans would be rewatching it obsessively like they did the Harry Potter films. Problem is, this isn’t Harry Potter, so the sequel’s approach to its callbacks has to be a little different.
Crimes of Grindelwald begins as dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes from custody in London. He sets off to build up a following of wizards who, and we assume his plan is going to ultimately end in a genocide of non-magical people. Our protagonist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), under the advice of Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), tries to stop Grindelwald, as well as solve a few other mysteries along the way with the help of his non-magical friend, Jacob (Dan Fogler).
The film consists of a lot of build-up and relying on the audience’s investment and enthusiasm to keep them engaged rather than continuing to build a world around Scamander and the beasts he collects. Here, there are hardly any fantastic beasts, and the new ones we get are irrelevant to the plot. We suddenly realize that this can’t possibly be the best prequel story told in the Potter-verse.
We understand what’s taking place on screen, but the pieces aren’t fitting together neatly–so we’re unsure why it’s all happening. We see things and know they’re important, but don’t know why. The movie takes all of these simultaneous story lines and gives them nowhere to go, rather than getting us excited about their trajectory or getting us re-excited about their potential from the first film.
We see a young Dumbledore–which is fun. But we also start to wish that this prequel series had him at the center of it instead. Why should we care about Scamander? And how is he connected to Harry Potter? None of it feels genuine.
There’s a lot of magic in the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts universe, but the magic never feels contrived. Except here, it’s used to propel the story a lot. Instead of the story propelling the magic.
There’s no adventure. And we don’t get any inkling of mystery until about halfway through. And even that feels forced. We get an expansion of the world within the series’ universe, but in an obligatory way. We see Hogwarts, but can’t help but feel that it’s merely gratuitous. The world is so vibrant that it prevents us from getting truly bored, but it’s unfair to not give us more than that.
The Harry Potter films are a lot of fun. But Crimes of Grindelwald is dry. The small humor that it does possess feels insincere. Fogler provides one of the only semblances of charisma and humor throughout the entire film. But ultimately, it remains buried amidst the hurricane of details.
The best part of Crimes of Grindelwald is the powerful climactic scene towards the end where the film draws effective parallels between Grindelwald and Adolf Hitler. But it does so while answering questions we didn’t know we needed answered. However, the twist is good enough to make the setups feel somewhat worth the wait. Ultimately, we get a mediocrely satisfying conclusion to the conflicts we’ve been issued, but we just wish it was as much fun as even the worst Harry Potter film. It’s fun being back in that world, but we want a lot more out of it.
It also sparks the question: If you’re living in a world of magic and odd creatures, then what’s the point of a traveling freak show?