Due to the nature of this film’s divisive reviews and what happens in the film, I feel it’ll be a lot more beneficial to review Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald by diving into some of the spoilers. For that, you have been warned. Crimes of Grindelwald is the second film in the five-film Harry Potter prequel series. Eddie Redmayne returns as Newt Scamander, the magizoologist from the first film. A quiet introvert, he finds more in common with the castaway creatures hidden in his briefcase than he does people, but that all changed in the first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, where he befriends Jacob and Tina and Queenie Goldstein. Some time has passed since the events of the first film and the dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has broken free of his American imprisonment, fleeing to Paris with the intent of rallying followers to his cause. Newt is tasked by Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to track down Credence Barebones (Ezra Miller), the young orphan who is in control of a magical parasite known as an Oscrurial which has made him incredibly powerful, something that Grindelwald seeks to exploit for his war.
This film has been getting pretty divisive reviews. Some critics thought it was trash while others say it was quite good. I lean more towards I enjoyed the film, but it was not without its faults. In fact, it had quite a few faults. Most noticeably though was the editing. There was a serious problem with it. There were very few transition shots, meaning that we’d be in one scene before cutting awkwardly to the next scene without any warning. It’s abrupt and disorientating. Furthermore, it’s sometimes unclear who is present within any given scene which means that some characters suddenly appear out of nowhere, such as the confrontation in the Lestrange vault where Jacob suddenly reappears.
The story also suffers from a few too many characters. Credence is the centre point of the plot but we don’t get nearly enough time with him. He’s on the run with Nagini (Claudia Kim), a character who ends up being Voldemort’s snake during the events of the Harry Potter books and films. Why is she here and what she contributes to the plot is beyond me. If she would be cut from the film, nothing would change. She kind of just feels like a walking Easter egg, like “hey look here, this is a Harry Potter film! See, Nagini!”. Yusef Kama (I had to look that one up) also feels like he’s there simply to explain things-information that could have been handled by someone else, such as Zoe Kravitz’s Leta Lestrange (who is engaged to Theseus Scamander-yeah there’s a lot of characters here). Leta is thankful, more interesting than all the new characters, and most of the old ones too, and she ties well into the history of the world. Due to so many stories and characters to follow, it feels like some characters get sidelined and underdeveloped.
Newt is the star of the film but I have to wonder if he will be in the next film. He didn’t have an arc in this entry. He was assigned to track Credence but also spent a lot of time tracking Tina. That’s all he does. Look for people. He’s also a witness to the events, like the audience but he had no impact on the plot. With Grindelwald amassing his followers, with Queenie and Credence siding with him and dark things around the corner, I wonder if Jude Law’s Dumbledore should become the protagonist of the next three films, however. Adding more emphasis on the Dumbledore story and taking away many of the beasts makes me wonder why the franchise is called “Fantastic Beasts” when they play no real role in the plot anymore. Also, does Newt only have one set of clothes? He’s in the same outfit he was wearing in the first film!
Like Jude Law’s Dumbledore, who was great in his limited screen time, so was the titular Grindelwald. What were his crimes anyway? But his rousing speech at the rally towards the end was exceptional and it was refreshing to see a film ends with a speech and smaller moments than a fifteen-minute battle like in the last film. In a way, it felt anti-climatic, as we’ve been conditioned to expect a battle now in blockbuster films (thanks Marvel), but this film broke that exception. Sure, they fought some magical fire dragon at the end, but it was over before it started really. Depp and Rowling have allowed Grindelwald to be a very interesting character that’s clearly influenced by both the Nazi-Fascism that was on the rise in Europe at the time, and the current state of American politics. I don’t think it’s an accident that she used the word “rally” as opposed to “gathering” as a certain President is known for giving speeches at rallies. I particularly like that his spell casting is made to look like a musical conductor and he’s orchestrating violence, death and fear with such glee.
Grindelwald is a man with a silver tongue though. Like Hitler, he said things that the people can relate to and offered to help them with their problems. If Wizards are the Nazis, then Muggles are the Jews in this parallel. Only Grindelwald wants to rule over them, not eliminate them. He argues that without magical intervention, Muggles are destined to slaughter each other time and time again and show his followers images of World War II that will hit Europe in around a decade. It has the desired effect. But despite his skills as a showman and orator, he is still a dark wizard and allowing the murder of a baby twenty-odd minutes into the film will reinforce the fact that this guy is bad news. He is second only to Voldemort, which means he was the most powerful dark wizard of all time at this point in history. Unlike Voldemort though, we get to see his rise in these films and know there are three more films where he’ll make life even more miserable for the heroes. Maybe the film should’ve been called The Rise of Grindelwald? Regardless, Depp was great but we need much more of him going forward, ditto with Law’s Dumbledore.
Many critics said the film was boring or confusing and I disagree with both of those statements. I think the film took a deep dive into its own lore and expected the audience to know its rules and intricacies. Is it a bit messy? You bet, but I was still engaged and invested in the overall story and curious as to how it would play out. The film truly shines in its costume and set design though. It feels like you are in Paris circa 1927 and I’ll be surprised if both departments don’t receive Oscar noms for their work. James Newton Howard also returns to score the film and does a much better job this time around than in the first film, offering darker string arrangements to subtly set the scene. Despite having limited character arcs overall, the actors do a good job in their roles and help propel the plot forward, even if there’s not much in the way of growth for many of them, save Queenie, who joins Grindelwald’s forces after being swayed by his promise of being able to love anyone a wizard choose. She and Jacob have to live in secret together and if Grindelwald wins, they can be together openly. I kind of wish Jacob went with her though. He has no real stakes in the wizarding world and doesn’t really know much about Grindelwald. Going with her would’ve been better emotionally as it would’ve made Queenie’s turn more impactful and would’ve given Newt a clearer goal in the future: to save his friend. But that’s not enough to drive the plot of three more movies.
Now. Let’s talk about the spoilerific twist ending. Grindelwald reveals that Credence Barebones is actually Aurelius Dumbledore, Albus’ brother. Holy plot twist. Also, very unexpected as there was never any mention of an Aurelius in any of the novels, so this feels a bit like a retcon. But then again, as Aberforth Dumbledore said, had he ever mentioned him before in the past? Albus was very secretive and having a much younger brother may, in fact, be news to him. We need more answers on this. Aurelius is said to be the only one who can kill Albus and with a new wand, he blows up a mountain-so you know he means business. Personally, though, I think Grindelwald is deceiving Credence. Thanks to a blood oath Albus and Grindelwald took in their youth, they can’t physically harm each other. With Credence in control of his obscrus, I think Grindelwald manipulated Credence by giving him what he wanted most: a name. Only the name was made up and Credence, so desperate for answers, bought into the narrative Grindelwald has created and now seeks to destroy Albus on behalf of Grindelwald. The age gap between Albus and “Aurelius” is just too large and when you know the story about the Dumbledore parents, you’ll know it’s basically impossible for Credence to have been born 20-30 years after Albus and be his brother. So Grindelwald made up a story and basically painted a target on Albus’ back. Makes more sense to me and I hope that’s the case, what about you?
Overall, The Crimes of Grindelwald is a messy but interesting deep dive into the Wizarding World. Plot holes and poor editing hold the movie down and Warner Brothers should consider assigning a co-writer to work on these films with J.K. Rowling, as she’s a novelist first and not a screenwriter. Perhaps a change in the director’s chair too is needed. I think this film’s importance and the story will largely be affected by what comes next. If Fantastic Beasts 3 fails to answer some questions or doesn’t give us satisfying revelations (*cough cough* Credence), then the enjoyment of this film will diminish. I think Newt should shift from the protagonist to a supporting character going forward and Jude Law’s Dumbledore should now become the protagonist of the series and get more hands-on with the action. Likewise, entry 3 should tell a more focused story instead of so many micro-stories. All we want to know is more about Dumbledore and Grindelwald anyway at this point, run with that. But if you’re a fan of Harry Potter, have seen the films a hundred times and know the books like the back of your hand, you should still enjoy this on some level, but don’t go in expecting something on the same level as Harry Potter. It’s an enjoyable film but also a frustrating one at the same time.
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