Director: David Yates
Screenplay: J. K. Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Kevin Guthrie, Jude Law, Johnny Depp
Runtime: 134 Minutes
It’s going to be interesting to look back on this specific time in history as the moment when people finally got sick of Harry Potter. The once revered literally work of the once revered J. K. Rowling has formed a multimedia empire upon which Warner Bros. is intent of continuing to exploit for residual goodwill and nostalgia dollars.
It’s been apparent for a few years now that Rowling is just no longer interested in building upon her credentials as an acclaimed author of children’s books, and instead wishes to reside in the safety of her Wizarding World by filling out the minutia and details of backstory to her original series of books and films – but even after the embarrassing fanfiction of the Cursed Child play and the tepid response to the phenomenally dull Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald might be the single worst entity that she has ever produced in tandem with her created universe.
There is little to nothing in the way of an actual story being told here, rather the extended prelude establishing more new characters and links to the original series and its events with no concern for audiences who aren’t already engaged in the fandom world of her increasingly tiresome and nonsensical world.
That’s not nonsensical in regard to the magic being involved – although that is used way to often to explain away narrative or character inconsistencies – but nonsensical in that while Rowling is very, very concerned with pleasing the fanbase with new slivers of history for the Pottermore web pages with endless expositional dumps and plot cul-de-sacs, she’s not even very good at it.
It’s been common knowledge for a while now that Rowling is just making things up as she goes along, but instead of owning up to any shortcomings when it comes to representations of her characters, she has been retroactively changing details in order to make things seem more diverse. Such as Dumbledore being gay, or Voldemort’s pet snake Nagini being a Korean lady in the past. But they serve no other function than being lazy attempts to seem retroactively diverse without once being engaged with beyond unacknowledged background detail.
If it sounds like a lot of this is being levied on the shoulders of Rowling (who once again takes the sole screenwriting credit here), it’s because she feels more responsible than anyone as to the state that this franchise has now found itself in; going down the rabbit hole of history into the backstories of boring characters and family ties, with zero interest in telling a coherent story of its own and absolutely content with simply laying down more of the foundations for the next six years of films on the way.
As stated, there really isn’t anything in the way of actual story of growth happening here. Over its 134-minute runtime nothing progresses in terms of movement barring the major detail of the lineage of the Ezra Miller’s Credence Barebone, not dead but actually alive and hiding Paris (don’t ask how, the film never answers that) with Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindelwald trying to find him to use him as a weapon against Dumbledore (Jude Law).
Tied around this are half a dozen separate plotlines going on with different wizarding factions trying to kill Credence first, none of which have anything to do with one another for the longest time until an embarrassing third act in which massive expositional dumps are made by characters shouting a distressing amount of backstory at one another, with names and titles attached that will have very little meaning for those not already entrenched with the knowledge of the expanded universe.
It would help if this were in any way visually engaging, but director David Yates brings just as lifeless a pallet to its settings, construction and visual movement in the heavily CGI sequences that make it a slog to watch even without the screenplay darting between different interchangeable characters and interactions. 1927 Paris looks just as empty and devoid of life as New York did in the previous film, with very few characters and no sense of urgency to its action or pace.
Every now and then it’s a light show of boring looking mechanical contraptions, moving walls and digital effects that vary between being horribly rendered and designed or shot with very little clarity or imagination to it’s staging. The fantastic beasts of the title itself don’t even show up all that often beyond in situations as contrived into being as some of the characters connections.
Eddie Redmayne is somehow even more inert her as hero Newt Scamander than he was in the previous film, colliding again with stunted love interest Tine Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) in a conflict that’s little more than an easy to solve misunderstanding that only exists to put them back to square one again. Returning roles such as sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) and No-Maj Jacob (Dan Fogler) are here but given nothing to do beyond setting up an obscenely stupid character development.
Just about the only actor looking like he’s having any fun is Jude Law as a young Dumbledore, but even then, he isn’t in the film much at all. Depp is given shockingly little to do despite the weight of his paycheck and his character’s name in the title, and following a visually messy escape sequence at the beginning does nothing but wait around to give a speech at the end and disappear.
The only interesting character appears to be Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange, damaged and confused young woman who still exerts a large amount of control over Newt, who was at one time in love with her and possibly still is. But it doesn’t matter, as the film doesn’t seem to be as interested in her, and by the end, she feels like an utterly wasted effort.
But it all comes down the Credence in the end, this tiresome nothing of a character who acts more like a walking talking McGuffin than anything else desperate to know about his lineage. Nearly 80% of the scenes it seems all surround characters going on and on about the mystery behind Credence, and you will the film to just end so that you can finally learn what the plot of the film you were watching was even about – only for it to arrive in a hurried final dialogue exchange right before a cut to the credits, and a reveal that should come across as a huge revelation instead lands with a flat and exhaustive thud of “that’s it?!” rising from the audience as they shuffle out. Almost certain to return for the next one where things may or may not be resolved.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the worst kind of franchise filmmaking in the current climate of blockbuster filmmaking. One that is far more concerned with pandering to the reference obsessed fanbase culture with exposition and worldbuilding to set up sequels than it is proving an engaging story, with simple elements such as compelling characters, visuals, emotional beats and drama being little more than vain attempts to hold up the rest of its pointless trivia and overly sombre tone. The reason why Harry Potter resonated with a generation (for better or for worse) was because of its characters, whereas this feels like a complete waste of time and air from every single person involved.