This review contains spoilers for “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
I’m the kind of Harry Potter fan everyone wants on their trivia team, the kind who holds annual “Harry Potter” movie marathons, the kind who can deconstruct every plot line, loophole and fan theory.
Yet, I walked out of “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” thoroughly “confounded.” The film tries its best to achieve the same stature, spirit and wit embodied in the Harry Potter franchise but the second installment simply bit off more than it could chew –– the quintessential magical genius of J.K. Rowling’s storytelling was still there, yet it lacked both control and oversight, causing a chaotic combination of confusion.
After originally claiming to be done with the world of Harry Potter, Rowling decided to keep the wizarding world alive through a new film series centered around quirky and quiet Hogwarts grad Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who has dedicated his life to the care and preservation of “seriously misunderstood” magical creatures.
In a conversation not seen in the first film, a young Dumbledore (Jude Law) convinces a somewhat reluctant Newt to set out on a mission to save a troubled boy named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who possesses an extremely dangerous magical object called an Obscurial. Free from the hellish orphanage of “Fantastic Beasts,” this new installment commences as Credence joins a circus in hopes of finding his real family. After slipping through everyone’s fingers in the first film, Credence is still the focus of the sequel, with Newt searching for him. But so is Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) who after escaping ministry custody during his transport to Europe is free to gather followers and begin his mission to rid the world of muggles and establish an international wizarding empire.
Unlike the first installment, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “The Crimes of Grindelwald” lacks both charisma and clarity. Although it tries to revive the same humor with returning characters such as the muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and his love interest, the adorable Queenie (Alison Sudol), they are not fully developed, nor given enough screen time. Then again, there are simply too many characters to do any of them justice. To name a few, there’s Nagini (Claudia Kim), Voldemort’s future snake sidekick, a shapeshifter Credence befriends at the circus, and his only real support system. She only has one line in the entire film. Then there’s Newt’s older brother Theseus (Callum Turner), a Ministry of Magic employee, and his wife Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), probably the most interesting addition to the cast. A close friend — and maybe more — of Newt’s back in his Hogwarts days, Leta’s troublesome past comes back to haunt her as the competing parties hunt for Credence. Yet again, I left the movie wishing she was more developed, for she had the most potential.
The first movie stole readers’ hearts with its beautifully crafted creatures that were both entertaining and lovable. Even though the nifflers make an adorable reappearance, the scenes with Scamander’s beasts just don’t have the same charm. They feel slightly rushed and last minute, which makes sense given the numerous plot points and characters the movie had to introduce. Like “Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Crimes of Grindelwald” falls into the trap of dedicating too much time to setting up viewers for future installments at the expense of everything else. Although Rowling, who wrote the screenplay, and director David Yates attempt to build in entertainment, the plot is simultaneously too busy and negligible. Newt remains a static character, and his Auror companion and love interest Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) doesn’t appear until halfway through the film and has hardly any lines or substance.
Grindelwald is the most dynamic and intriguing character in the film. In another parallel to the latest “Avengers,” “Crimes of Grindelwald’s” character surplus leaves Grindelwald the de facto lead. Similarly, the film seeks to make Grindelwald’s motives somewhat empathetic, much like Thanos. Grindelwald shows his followers visions of the destruction of World War II to justify his goal of eradicating muggles; what kind of magic allows him to project the future is unclear. For a moment, he almost convinces the audience that magical fascism is better than democracy. Depp perfectly embodies the terror and mystery of Grindelwald’s character, a compelling balance to the ease and cleverness of Jude Law’s young Dumbledore. However, as is the case with so many other characters, the movie does not give enough time to Dumbledore, nor his relationship with Grindelwald. Most of what we learn about his character is revealed in dialogue between other individuals.
“Crimes of Grindelwald” failed to meet my expectations, but I still hold out hope for future installments. The eleventh-hour plot twist is more than enough to keep viewers coming back for more. After the final standoff of the film, Grindelwald wins some of the “good guys” over to his side, specifically Queenie — who believes she will be allowed to marry a muggle — and Credence –– the person Grindelwald desires most for no specific reason. As it turns out, Grindelwald has known Credence’s lineage all along (how he knows remains unclear): his real name is Aurelius Dumbledore. This not only came as a shock to Credence and the characters, but to the audience as well.
Unfortunately, for die-hard Harry Potter fans like me, this plot twist presents something of a problem. Everyone knows that Dumbledore only has two siblings, Aberforth, a goat-lover who runs the Hog’s Head Inn, and Ariana, who died at the age of sixteen. Of course, the simplest explanation is that Dumbledore has a secret brother he never mentioned before. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t work out: Percival Dumbledore, Albus’ dad, was sent to Azkaban and died before Dumbledore left for Hogwarts, and his mother died when he was 17. One possible solution to this mystery is that Grindelwald is lying; however, that would be no fun. Maybe the next installment will explain Aurelius’s existence in a way that doesn’t involve Rowling rewriting her own timelines, but we will have to wait and see.
As crazy and confusing “The Crimes of Grindelwald” is, the latest installment in the “Fantastic Beasts” series nevertheless brings fans back to the magical realm of Harry Potter. For all its plotholes and confusion, there was still that inexhaustible feeling of euphoria at the sight of magical ministries, wizarding duels and of course, a revived Dumbledore.