Director: David Yates
Writers: J.K. Rowling
Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Johnny Depp
I was quite worried when the first Fantastic Beasts film was announced. I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter books and films, and the slim volume of creatures J.K. Rowling released for charity didn’t seem like the stuff of blockbuster movies; it seemed like they were just trying to milk the franchise for every drop of magic it had. But they pulled it off! The first movie was a fantastic success, not only financially, but creatively. To set the story in 1920s New York with all new characters, but still retain the familiar elements established in the Harry Potter films was a masterstroke, and one I seriously doubt they could’ve pulled off without J.K. Rowling’s involvement. She knows this world inside out, including heritage and back-stories that never made it into the Potter novels.
The first film had a pretty basic setup – a bunch of magical animals escape in New York and they have to be recaptured. This second outing doesn’t have a plot that can be summed up in one line, or even a paragraph, and that’s its main failing.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is like a lot of little vignettes instead of one complete story. There’s no clear task set out for our heroes to accomplish and so the film does feel like it chases its own tail a lot of the time. London and France are added to the list of locations and I’m not sure if this was a good idea or not. On one hand, it does give this problem a more international feel, and so upping the stakes, but on the other it just distracts from the plot as we sightsee around these new locations establishing new rules and characters.
Johnny Depp gives us yet another character with a unique look and he seems to be relishing playing the baddie, but I think it would’ve made him a stronger villain if we’d seen him doing some more nasty stuff. There is quite a disturbing death in an apartment in France, but since he gets one of his minions to do the dirty deed it gives the impression of a general doing what has to be done rather than someone who is truly evil relishing killing.
Jude Law plays the young Dumbledore and though his portrayal bares little resemblance to the wizened old headmaster we all know and love (he hasn’t even got started on that beard yet!), I’m hoping he’ll edge towards something more like the Albus we know as the movies go on. The scenes at Hogwarts give us something familiar to hang this whole story on, but once again these scenes are so badly fragmented at one point I didn’t realise we were in a flashback. This film really does feel like a script made of a hundred post-it notes for things we need to know going forward.
Emotionally I didn’t connect with the characters this time, even the ones returning from the first movie, and I think that’s because this script was trying to run in too many directions at once and forgot that above all we need to care about the characters. There’s a scene near the end which should’ve been heart-breaking, but fell flat with me, and it was simply because we hadn’t spent enough time with these people to care about them.
J.K. Rowling has said there are to be five of these movies, so we may well look back on The Crimes of Grindelwald as the movie that planted a lot of important seeds for what is to come, but I felt they could’ve done that and still gave us an entertaining self-contained story that added to the greater story arc, instead of using two hours fifteen minutes to strategically position chess pieces for what’s to come.