Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) Review
DARKNESS RISES AND
THE LIGHT TO MEET IT
In 2016, five years after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 concluded the “boy who lived” cinematic adventure saga of witches and wizards, J.K. Rowling returned to her magical “Wizarding World” for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel / spin-off endeavor to the eight-part Potter films. The feature, which was directed Harry Potter alum David Yates and starred Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Alison, Colin Farrell, and several others, focused the introverted protagonist character of Newt Scamander, a magizoologist wizard, who travels to New York City (circa 1926) and accidentally releases some of his creatures loose in the city, while stumble upon a larger threat that sees to expose the wizarding community to the non-magical (i.e. No-Maj). While they were some skeptics and critics out there, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ultimately was a success, finding its audience who enjoyed the feature (the movie was well-received positive reviews) and the film did collect $814 million at the worldwide box office against its $175 million production budget. The success of Fantastic Beasts proved that moviegoers (around the world) will still hungry for more adventures in this spin-off series in Rowling’s Wizarding World, with the studio (shortly after the film’s releases) expanded upon the idea of future installments from three Fantastic Beasts installments to five installments. Now, two years have passed and its time to return again to the Wizarding World as Warner Bros. Pictures and director David Yates presents the second chapter in the Fantastic Beasts saga with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Does this last adventure for Newt Scamander (and company) finds a cinematic narrative of entertainment or is it an uneven return to the Rowling world of witches and wizards?
Being sent back to Europe answer for his crimes, the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes MACUSA custody while he’s being transported and immediately returns to his quest to not only gather followers to his cause, but to also locate Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), the young / abused wizard with an Obscurus parasite who survived his showdown with MACUSA in New York City a few months back. Now, Credence is traveling through Paris in secret with a wizard traveling circus, in the hope of uncovering the truth of his wizarding family lineage. Elsewhere, magizoologist wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is recruited by his former Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) to find Credence before Grindelwald does. However, Dumbledore avoids answering the question as to why he doesn’t simply battle Gellert himself, leading to dark secret between the two powerful wizards. Along the way, Newt is reunited with his old NYC companions, including No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), who inform Newt that Queen’s sister Tina (Katherine Waterson) is also searching for Credence. Meanwhile, with Dumbledore remaining on the side-lines, the Ministry of Magic sends Newt’s brother Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner) and Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) to capture Credence. As all parities head to Paris in search of the mysterious young man, Grindelwald begins to expand his grip on power, with the intention of pursuing his ultimate endgame desire: for pure-blooded wizards to rule over all non-magical beings.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As some out there already know, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. Yes, I’m part of “Potter” fandom as absolutely love the Rowling’s book as well as the eight cinematic installments that told of Harry’s journey from start to finish. And…I’ll admit that it was kind of a bittersweet when I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in theaters, saying goodbye to Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest as well as Rowling’s cinematic Wizarding World that had enchanted us (the viewers) for almost a decade. Thus, you can imagine how I must have felt when I heard Rowling (and Warner Bros.) announced that they were planning a new prequel / spin-off in the Harry Potter World. Like many, I was skeptical about this movie series, especially since it was “away” from the already established world of Harry Potter and his time at Hogwarts. However, I was still very curious (and eager) to see what this new sage would bring. Luckily, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them did not fail in being a celebrated return to Rowling’s Wizarding World. The movie, which was also inspired by Rowling’s 2001 book of the same name, was an opportunity for us (the viewers) to glimpse back into Rowling’s world of witches and wizards, but from a different perspective, with the movie set away from the previous saga (i.e. another time, another place, new cast of characters). While some diehard fans (and critics) cried foul with this movie in comparison to the Harry Potter films (i.e. like trying to compare Peter Jackson’s two Middle-Earth trilogies), Fantastic Beasts still had plenty of “Potter” magic to make this first installment in a new cinematic series worth following. As you could imagine, I loved the movie and eagerly awaited the next chapter in the Fantastic Beast saga.
Flash forward two years later, and here I come back around to talking about Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second chapter in the Fantastic Beasts series. Like I said, I happily satisfied with the first movie and was definitely looking forward to seeing how the next movie would ultimately shape up to be. Plus (like any Potter fan), I kept on searching the internet for any tidbit “buzz” about The Crimes of Grindelwald during its production announcement (i.e. casting announcements) to its various media interviews during “press junket” prior to its premiere release date. Of course, the film’s various movie trailers also fed my appetite of all things “Fantastic Beasts”, with my anticipation to seeing this new movie growing with each viewing of the trailers. Now, the moment has come and went to go see the movie, hoping that the movie might top my already high expectations for second outing of the Fantastic Beasts franchise. So, what did I think? Did the movie top my expectations? Well, not exactly. While the movie does fumble in some areas, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald still succeeds in being another solid entry into this established movie universe of witches and wizards. It doesn’t outshine the first entry in the Fantastic Beasts saga, but it still is magically entertaining in laying the foundation for what is to come.
Returning to the director’s chair for The Crimes of Grindelwald is David Yates, who (if you didn’t know) directed several other Potter films, including The Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2 as well as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Thus, it goes without saying that Yates is extremely familiar with the cinematic representation for Rowling’s Wizarding World and seems like the ideal choice director for this latest installment in the Fantastic Beasts saga. Of course, it comes at no surprise that Yates easily slides back into the movie world he had a hand in creating (for many years…mind you), creating another enticing entry that’s full of magical visuals and relatable characters. Like in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, Yates makes The Crimes of Grindelwald explores new terrain, giving the story a new setting of Paris, France for the movie’s character to play around in. To me, its quite interesting, with us (the viewers) getting another opportunity explore a new setting from Rowling’s Wizard World, finding the beautiful City of Lights (i.e. Paris) to be an excellent locale with its architecture and nuances. Additionally, Yates knows the inner workings of making a Potter / Fantastic Beasts feature, with this film having the right components of drama, heart, and comedic lightheartedness throughout, which does make for good movie entertainment. Unlike the Potter features, which gradually become more complexed and darker with each subsequent installment, the Fantastic Beasts movies have a bit more of a “darker” theme, especially when examining the nature of “the Beasts” in both the beasts within ourselves and the beasts that we make of others. This is prevalent in The Crimes of Grindelwald, most notable in the characters of Credence and of Grindelwald, which seem to be two main components of the series (thus far). All in all, while the movie may not be his best and brightest entry in this world of witches and wizards, his overall crafting of The Crimes of Grindelwald makes for a compelling feature that’s entertaining, while also laying plenty of groundwork for what is to come.
With Yates returning to the director’s chair, the film’s script is once again handled by Wizarding World creator J.K. Rowling, with The Crimes of Grindelwald being her sophomore attempt of crafting a story / narrative for this new cinematic saga. While she does stumble a bit (more on that below), Rowling does succeed in broadening the scope and scale of the Fantastic Beasts series, expanding upon the characters that were first established in the 2016 film and delving into new territory for this particular chapter of the franchise. To me, what does work for the movie is that the fact Rowling brings the central conflict of (presumably) to the new series to foreground, examining the large plot with Grindelwald, his rise to power, and the start of his war against non-magical beings as well as bringing Harry Potter character Albus Dumbledore into the Fantastic Beasts fold, which does plant future ideas for several certain characters to be develop in the series. Unlike the Harry Potter movies, which were based off her books, the Fantastic Beasts films are mostly created by Rowling’s imagination (minus a few hinted fragmented pieces she has divulge over the years), which makes The Crimes of Grindelwald quite interesting as I personally intrigued by how the movie would ultimately shape up to be. Plus, they were a few twists and turns in the movie I wasn’t expecting, one in particular made me shocked, which (again) is a good thing for movie to make.
The Crimes of Grindelwald also helps bridge the gap between the Fantastic Beasts saga to the Harry Potter saga by introducing a lot of Potter references, including a familiar trip back to Hogwarts, which I do have to admit was pretty exciting to see. There are several others throwing in, so I won’t spoil it. Just be on the lookout for them. Also, the question on how to handle the Albus and Gellert’s relationship in the movie has been a certain discussion point I’ve seeing pop up every now again on the internet. Rest assured, it’s nothing explicit and is handle quite well in the movie (Yates and Rowling provide enough subtext and visual imagery for a viewer to draw the conclusion on their relationship) as I’m sure it will further be developed and closely examined in rest of the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
On the technical filmmaking side, The Crimes of Grindelwald, much like its Wizarding World predecessors, shines immensely, visually bringing this imaginative world (circa 1927) to life on the silver screen. Much like the previous Fantastic Beasts movie, the visual aesthetics of the feature highlighted beautifully in the movie, with many of the focus on the various “fantastic” creatures that are scattered across the film that Newt and company encounter. While they are fewer in The Crimes of Grindelwald, these magical creatures are intricately detailed rendered and come to life as majestic beings, be familiar ones like the adorable looking niffler to newer ones like Zouwu and Kelpie. Thus, I have to mention (and give credit) to the entire visual effects for their efforts on the movie in bring these creatures to life as well as some of other magical elements to life throughout. Additionally, the cinematography work by Philippe Rousselot is solid, creatively making some great camera shots throughout the feature and continuing the ongoing trend of making these movies (I’m talking all the Harry Potter / Fantastic Beasts movies) cinematically impressive. Other areas that should be mentioned are production designs by Stuart Craig, set decorations by Anna Pinnock, and costume designs Colleen Atwood; finding each one collectively adding to the overall “look and feel” of the feature’s setting aesthetics. Lastly, the film’s musical score, which was composed by James Newton Howard, is great, with arrangement playing some familiar melodies (from both Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter) as well creating some new ones that certainly does add that extra layer of background music to many scenes, including the film’s climatic third act.
Unfortunately, there were a few noticeable problems with The Crimes of Grindelwald that makes the movie stumble in its undertaking as well as not able to surpass what the first Fantastic Beasts installment. Perhaps the most notable that many will find with this movie is the fact that the movie is overstuffed. What do I mean? Well, with a runtime 134 minutes (two hours and fourteen minutes), The Crimes of Grindelwald feels long and justly so, with a lot of time spent of trying to establish the story’s new terrain and its characters. Of course, this was somewhat to be expected as the movie expands upon the Fantastic Beast’s era of the Wizarding World and setting up events / characters for the rest of the franchise. That being said, its apparently that the movie seems to spreading itself “too thin” in some areas as it tries to fill out a feature length film. There’s definitely a story to be told in the film, but it meanders its way through several unnecessary subplots and side-characters that don’t bring much to the main narrative other than one-dimensional plot device that are in service to the machinations of the Grindelwald’s rise to power rather than wholesome extensions to this cinematic universe. Maybe this is due to Rowling’s handling of the movie’s screenplay, which has plenty of good ideas throughout, but the script itself is need of someone overseeing to hone in on those particular ideas and to refine them for a more robust script /story than a bloated one. Everything comes together during the film’s third act, which makes for a good cinematic presence, but the journey getting there is problematic with some bloated “filler” sequences and flat characters that do little to the movie (as a whole). Thus, in comparison to the two Fantastic Beasts films, The Crimes of Grindelwald is a bit less focused in how it circumnavigates its own story than its 2016 predecessor. Perhaps it is for this reason why I personal like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them a bit more this movie.
Coinciding with that problem is that the movie seems to be more of bridge to a greater story. Yes, its lays the groundwork for the rest of the Fantastic Beasts story and there’s a lot to digest in this particular feature. However, it feels a lot occurs, but nowhere near a resolution. Basically, the movie poses more questions and mysteries than offering answers. Again, The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second chapter of a now planned five feature film series. Thus, the overall narrative of being told in the movie is, for better or worse, a worldbuilding setup for the Fantastic Beasts franchise; unlike the Potter films, which are more like subsequently entries (having a beginning, middle, and end plot) of a larger narrative being told. Like I said, there’s a story in The Crimes of Grindelwald, but it sometimes gets sidetracked with its foreshadowing of events to come for future installments.
Additionally, there were a few parts of the movie that were a bit perplexing and weren’t exactly fleshed out. Of course, some Potter fans (myself included) were eagerly awaiting some new material from this movie, expanding upon the lore and mythos of Rowling’s creative fantasy world of witches and wizards. However, the actually execution of some these stories gets fumbled in how its presenting, especially one involving a prophecy that plays as a plot point for some of the film’s characters. Again, it goes back to Rowling’s handling of the script, which could’ve easily fleshed out certain things (for both fans and non-fans out there) as well as Yates direction for the overall feature. In a nutshell, the film somewhat assumes that you (the viewer) already have pre-existing knowledge of certain aspects that the movie wants to discuss, which (contrary to their belief) many don’t. Personally, I really had to pay attention to some of these moments as I too (a Potter fan) found myself to be “scratching my head” as to what was just been said or shown on-screen. However, all these negative remarks didn’t completely derail the movie for me as I still greatly enjoyed The Crimes of Grindelwald probably a bit more than most. However, some out there might take these criticisms more to heart than I did. Just pointing them out.
The cast in The Crimes of Grindelwald is generally positive favorable, with plenty of recognizable faces returning to their character post from the previous Fantastic Beasts film as well as new ones who play to fill out new and old character from Rowling’s Wizarding World. At the head of pack is actor Eddie Redmayne, who plays Fantastic Beasts main protagonist character of Newt Scamander. Known for his roles in The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl, and Les Miserable), Redmayne continues to shine as the introverted (and slightly awkward) magizoologist, providing enough complexity and conflicted decision with the character. Perhaps one of the most compelling pieces of Newt (in this particular movie) is on whether he will join fight against Grindelwald or not; remaining on the sidelines with his magical creatures. Unlike the character of Harry Potter, Newt isn’t task (or prophesized) to defeat a dark lord wizard or have infamous well-known parents in the wizarding community. At his core, Newt is simply a man who has a good moral compass and does what is right. Redmayne plays that notion to the letter when approaching his persona of Newt, playing up his childish delight when working / handling various magical creatures and melancholy dread / concern when facing something less pleasant like when confronting Grindelwald’s vile plans of war and death. Additionally, both Yates and Rowling give plenty of time to further develop the character of Newt Scamander in this entry, which is terrific. Plus, he certainly does make for a great main character to follow of which I can’t wait to see flourish and grow in the rest of the series.
With Redmayne’s Newt returning to headline the movie, the other three members of the Fantastic Beasts quartet also return to reprise their roles in the movie. The characters of the witch Queenie Goldstein and the No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, who are played by actress Alison Sudol (Transparent and Dig) and actor Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury and Fanboys) respectfully, are fun in returning to their romantic relationship and comedic antics throughout the feature; giving them plenty of screen-time to explore some new terrain for them. Likewise, the character of Tina Goldstein, Queenie’s s sister and who is played by actress Katherine Waterson (Steve Jobs and Alien: Covenant) is a good foil for Redmayne’s Newt, especially when the pair exchange the awkward “will they / won’t they” relationship stance for each other. Altogether, the Fantastic Beasts quartet is indeed a strong one (similar to Harry Potter trio) and its certainly fun to see them all the characters back on the screen for another adventure, with each one getting a bit more flesh out here and there.
Then there is the character of Credence Barebones, the enigmatic and abused wizard who as an obscurus parasite entity within who first appeared in the previous Fantastic Beasts and played by actor Ezra Miller (Justice League and Trainwreck). While he’s character was established in the first movie, his character growth in The Crimes of Grindelwald is slightly undeveloped, despite being the sort of “McGuffin” for the movie. Like before, his storyline is the weakest of all and could’ve had more substance within his narrative threads. Still, Miller’s performance is good as the conflicted young man and lends “credence” (yes…a play on words) to what may befallen him in the next Fantastic Beasts chapter.
Next, is the character of Gellert Grindelwald, the dark wizard who acts as the main antagonist not just for this movie but as well as (presumably) the rest of the Fantastic Beasts saga. Played by actor Johnny Depp, who is known for his roles in Rango, Finding Neverland, and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the character of Grindelwald was mentioned a few times in the previous movie, with a an almost cameo-like appearance from Depp in the role. Now, in The Crimes of Grindelwald, the curtain is finally “pulled back” (sort of speak) on the infamous dark wizard character, with Depp giving a fantastic performance in the role. While Depp has been known portraying characters in a more flamboyant and / or loud way (i.e. the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, or Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, or even Will Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), he approaches Grindelwald with subtlety in his performance, providing the right amount of villainous vile and overall creepiness to the character, which (in turns) makes for a captivating performance in the role. This, on-top of the film’s introduction of layering his character with Dumbledore’s private life (I assume it will further be examined in later entries), makes the character of Grindelwald more interesting and well-rounded than just a cliché dark lord baddie. All in all, despite the media attention surrounding his personal life and his involvement on this project (I’m talking about the abusive allegations about Depp, of course), Depp’s performance as the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald is (without a doubt) excellent in every way possible. Super excited and intrigued to see what happens to his character (and what Depp brings to him) in the future installments of the series.
Similarly, the character of Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter films, returns in The Crimes of Grindelwald, with actor Jude Law playing the younger iteration of the legendary wizard. Law, known for his roles in Closer, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Sherlock Holmes, does provide a sense of charismatic charm and a bit of humor when he’s on-screen, which is something atypical from the actor’s acting talents. Thus, it’s kind of nice to see the character of Dumbledore this way (a more charming individual that has a bit more warmth to him) rather than wizened / mentoring (and sometime distant) iteration that we’ve seeing in the Harry Potter movies. The character is sprinkled throughout the movie, so he isn’t fully developed (as of yet), but his appearance in The Crimes of Grindelwald suggest that he will be a major player in the coming Fantastic Beasts films. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing Law’s Dumbledore clash with Depp’s Grindelwald.
Of all the new characters that actress Zoe Kravitz (Divergent and Mad Max: Fury Road) shines the brightest as Leta Lestrange (yes, the same Lestrange family lineage to Potter’s Bellatrix Lestrange). The character is given enough screen-time to leave a lasting impression, acting as fixed character of mystery and intrigued in The Crimes of Grindelwald, with Rowling’s script keeping her character ambiguous (and for good reason) on which side of the upcoming war she’ll be on. Behind Kravitz’s Leta is the character of Theseus Scamander (Newt’s older brother), who is played by actor Callum Turner (War & Peace and Green Room). While Turner gives a good performance, the characters seems more on the backburner of the story, despite his involvement in the movie’s narrative. I kind of wish he was given more to do or (at the very least) a bit more depth in unfolding his and Newt’s brotherly relationship. Hopefully, that idea comes more into the foreground in future entry in the series.
Who’s the most disappointing of the new character is Nagini, the maledictus woman who will (soon or later) transform into a snake permanently and who is played by actress Claudia Kim (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Marco Polo). Despite the heavy appearance of her in the film’s various trailers and marketing promos, the character of Nagini (who many Potter fans know will become the faithful snake companion to Lord Voldemort) isn’t that all important in The Crimes of Grindelwald; merely being cameo throwaway reference than something substantial to the feature…. even for a minor one. Kim’s performance is good, but feels like a wasted opportunity for both her and the character of Nagini. Hopefully, she will appear again (and possibly have more a character build) in future installments.
The rest of the supporting players in the movie are mixed of good to almost semi-forgettable in their respective character roles. While all give solid performances throughout, their characters, whether important or not, are one-dimensional and come off as plot point to the film’s narrative, with some merely being physically presence than others. This includes actor William Nadylam (Transfixed and White Material) as Yusuf Kama (a wizard who is looking for Credence), actress Poppy Corby-Tuech (The Collection and Harlots) as Grindelwald’s loyal right-hand follower Vinda Rosier, actor Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson (Jar City and Everest) as a bounty hunter for the Ministry of Magic Grimmson, and actress Victoria Yeates (Lip Service and Call the Midwife) as Newt’s assistant Bunty, and actor Derek Riddell (Five Days and No Angels) as Ministry of Magic Law Enforcement official Torquil Travers. Again, while all give fine acting performance in their roles, majority of these characters are thinly-presented in the movie, with most serving the feature’s story / scene in their capacity as minor characters. Also, actor Brontis Jodorowsky (El Topo and Opus Zero) plays the character of Nicholas Flamel (yes, the same character that is mention in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or Philosopher’s Stone in the UK). While his involvement in the movie is, more or less, a Harry Potter connection reference, its still a fun cameo.
Lastly, in smaller roles / cameo like appearance are several minor characters from the first Fantastic Beasts movie as well as a few callbacks from the Potter films, including actress Carmen Ejogo (Selma and It Comes at Night) as MACUSA’s president Seraphina Picquery and actor Kevin Guthrie (Dunkirk and Sunset Song) as MACUSA’s supervisor official Abernathy, while actors Toby Regbo (Reign and The Last Kingdom) and Jamie Campbell Bower (The Mortal Instrument: City of Bones and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) reprise the younger version of Dumbledore and Grindelwald). Despite their only minor roles in the feature, the appearance in the film still adds that little extra continuity connection from the first movie to this one of which I do like.
Grindelwald has escaped and begins to amass his followers in Paris as Newt and friends search for Credence before falling into the dark wizard’s evil clutches in the movie Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Director David Yates latest film returns to series of Newt Scamander and company, expanding upon the tale that began back in 2016 with a more darker and enticing entry in this movie franchise. While the movie does fumble in of its storytelling elements (most notably in its pacing and unnecessary sub-plot / side characters), the film does improve on fleshing out its main characters (especially Redmayne and Depp) and further explores the central plot for the series as well as providing an intriguing tale that’s littered with Potter connection references and impressive visuals effects. Personally, I liked the movie. Yes, there were some problems with its storytelling execution and pacing, but it was still an exciting and engagingly entertaining return to the Fantastic Beasts saga. Although, I still like the first film better. Again, it’s not as terrible as some critics are making it out to be, but some moviegoers might be a slightly disappointed with the movie. Thus, my recommendation for The Crimes of Grindelwald is both a “recommended” one (for the fans out there) as well as an “iffy choice” for everyone else. Again, some might like it, while others won’t. As stated, Fantastic Beasts is a planned five feature film series, with the third entry slated to be released on November 15th, 2020, promising more “fantastic” adventures for Newt Scamander and the rise of Gellert Grindelwald. For now, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, despite its flaws, is still a visual entertaining and mostly solid cinematic endeavor, succeeding in broaden the saga’s narrative (bringing the large plot into focus) in this new era of Rowling’s Wizarding World. Can’t wait for Fantastic Beasts 3!
4.0 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: November 16th, 2018
Reviewed On: November 16th, 2018
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is 134 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action