By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald does overindulge on the ‘franchise’ moments and is rather plot heavy at times but it generally casts a decent spell. Characters are well grounded and the tie-in to the ‘Potter-verse’ is well crafted and shows that the truly gifted J.K. Rowling still has it.
Directed by David Yates (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), The Crimes of Grindelwald or ‘Grindelwald’ for short sees young wizard and friend of beasts Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his American friends travel to Paris after dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes and attempts to track down troubled orphan and magical obscurial Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller).
Everything comes together reasonably well this time around. The first Fantastic Beasts felt like a lost little lamb overshadowed by the monstrous success of the Harry Potter franchise, now officially named the ‘Wizarding World’. The film was underwhelming, childish and even boring at times, lacking any sort of depth and character outside of its plethora of colourful beasts.
Scamander still has his beasts in Grindelwald, but spends more time trying to unveil the dark secrets than just taking us on a tour into his Poppins-like suitcase. There are definitely fewer creatures this time around, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting. The Chinese Zouwu was a particularly colourful and fascinating addition.
Wonderful CGI too. Some of the best in the business and by far the best I’ve seen this year, and James Newton Howard’s haunting soundtrack really envelopes you too. Grindelwald feels like it was carefully crafted, especially where production was concerned. It’s a much darker tone this time round though. Kids that were able to handle the later Potter movies should be fine with this though.
The action sequences are thrilling from the get-go. Anyone who misses the Quidditch from earlier Potter films will be thoroughly impressed by Grindelwald’s escape scene in the first few minutes of the film – a beautifully choreographed sequence that really gets you in the mood.
Surprisingly though, Grindelwald isn’t as insidiously evil as you might expect. Unlike Voldemort, he has a bit of a sense of humour and there’s even a hint of delightful campness to him. Enough to be interesting, but never over-the-top or offensive. I wouldn’t use the word ‘nuanced’ just yet, but it’ll get there in the sequels.
The past romance between a much younger Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Grindelwald is also hinted at throughout the film, but those looking for any real moments of intimacy will be disappointed – there’s no wizard makeout session here.
Grindelwald spends a lot of time, sometimes too much time, exploring characters from Potter and how they ended up where they did. Leta Lestrange (yes, an ancestor of that crazy witch from Potter) is played well by Zoe Kravitz and she even manages to pull off a half decent British accent. Lestrange’s past is an interesting one and for the most part very unpredictable, as is the shy and timid, but very powerful Credence – fans won’t be disappointed with the finale.
BUT, the film does have a tendency to go too into too many details. The two and a half hour runtime, like a lot of action movies these days, seems uncalled for. Was it really necessary to show where Voldemort’s snake servant ‘Nagini’ (Claudia Kim) came from? The thought had never crossed my mind. The same with Nicolas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowsky) – I’m still not really sure why he was there at all.
Past heroes Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Goldstein) also have next to nothing to do in this film. They stand around like spare parts until Queenie decides to make some INCREDIBLY rash decisions that seem both totally out of the blue and uncalled for.
Don’t let these little things turn you off though. This is a memorable chapter in the Wizarding World franchise and both fans and newcomers will get something out of it. There are many magic moments to be had, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. 😉