Film review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), directed by David Yates
tl;dr: A lacklustre filler. (Review gives away the basic premise of the start of the film but is relatively spoiler free!)
What has happened since we last stepped back in time in the Potterverse? It’s 1927 and Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is still imprisoned but is about to be moved to Europe to stand trial for his crimes there. Some shenanigans happen and he escapes.
Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has a plucky assistant, Bunty (Victoria Yeates, i.e. Sister Winifred from Call the Midwife), and they feed his menagerie of colourful creatures somewhere in London. His brother Theseus (Callum Turner) is trying to get Newt’s international travel ban lifted, but as the Ministry will only do it in return for Newt hunting for Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), it’s a no from him. Even after Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) himself suggests he go after him.
The brothers’ relationship is Complicated, because Theseus is engaged to marry Newt’s BFF from Hogwarts, Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz). Fortunately, he soon has other things on his mind: his friends from New York show up: a very loved-up Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) along with muggle fiancée Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), but Tina (Katherine Waterston) isn’t with them.
Tina, we find out, is in Paris, looking for Credence, who is looking for his family. Finally sufficiently motivated to act, Newt and the plot moves to the French capital and stays there.
Along the way we meet Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) who has his very own reasons for wanting to find Credence, an auror called Spielman (Wolf Roth, now THAT’S a name!), Abernathy (Kevin Guthrie) from MACUSA (here only referred to as “American Ministry of Magic”, because why be consistent?) and Grindelwald’s other henchmen Rosier (Poppy Corby-Tuech) and Grimmson (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson). In a flashback, we even see Jamie Campbell Bower repeating his role as the young Grindelwald (first seen in a flashback in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 from 2010).
We briefly meet the president of the US Wizarding World, Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo, basically blink and you’ll miss her), have a weird wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey thing going on as a young Minerva McGonagall (Fiona Glascott) shows up in her 20s seven or so years before she’s due to be born according to established canon, and for what appears to be no other reason than “hey, remember THAT guy?” Nicholas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowsky) – the one who made the Philosopher’s Stone. Him. We even get a cameo from said stone, which he keeps in a cupboard.
Credence is working in a circus where he has become friends with a maledictus called Nagini (Claudia Kim). A maledictus is a person who’s cursed to finally become stuck in animal form, and while she’s criminally underused in this film, I’m hoping she’ll be a lot more involved in the next three (three, ugh) considering we know Nagini as Voldemort’s horcrux slash pet snake. In this film, however, she’s basically just Credence’s shadow and could just as easily have been replaced by a hat stand or pot plant or something. It’s a shame.
I’m meaning to keep this review fairly free of spoilers, which means I also have to keep it fairly free of ranting, which means I have to try and sum it up right about now.
The film is very dark. Not so much in subject matter (although it tries very hard, bless) but as in actual lack of light. Even scenes in broad daylight feel like they’re viewed through sunglasses. But that’s not the biggest problem.
Even if we completely set aside the whole Johnny Depp domestic violence controversy (which really should have had him booted off the first film if only to ensure smooth sailing for the new franchise, as I know a bunch of genuine Potterheads boycotted it as a result, regardless of whether or not the accusations against him were true), his casting seems odd and out of place. The problem for me is that he’s pretty much become a parody of himself these days, as he plays the same character over and over. Want someone a bit quirky and weird? Hire Depp. He might have been Tim Burton’s go-to guy, but I’m getting fed up of seeing him now. It means that I can’t lose myself in the plot because every time he’s on screen, he’s Johnny Depp playing Johnny Depp. When Ezra Miller is on screen I see Credence not Ezra Miller and so on, but Grindelwald? No, he’s Johnny Depp.
The plot wants to do so much and tries to cram in as much as possible, but it’s too much to take in so it feels more like it’s all over the place and there’s no chance in really getting sucked in when it comes to the characters. I’ve already mentioned Nagini, but who is Theseus as a person aside from “Newt’s straight-laced older brother”?
It also feels as if it’s very much just a way of getting from point A to point B. “Well, I mean, they’re just setting it up for the finale in the next film,” said Mr T, who had missed that this (at the time of writing) isn’t meant to be a trilogy. When I told him this was the second of five films, he looked sceptical – as well he should. I looked sceptical and said “Really?” when they first broke the news, and I’m a massive Potter fan.
A part of it feeling like the middle bit is that the film also doesn’t really have a climax. There is a bit of a build-up, something that the film thinks is a climax and certainly pretends it is (but it isn’t, really) and a denouement follows after it, but the climax is so underwhelming you might as well call it an anti-climax.
To sum up: I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but this is a Potterworld film that actually manages to be dull and uninspiring. While it’s fun not knowing exactly what’s going to happen, the plot is too unfocused and it doesn’t know if the focus should be on Newt or Credence or someone else. At least the first film had Colin Farrell as Graves (what happened to the real Percival Graves is a whole other Chamber of Secrets still waiting to be opened).
I’m kinda not even looking forward to the third film now because this one was decidedly meh, and I’ve deliberately not even gone into any of the controversies surrounding this one (with one exception), because many other sites have already done so, at great length, and this wasn’t meant to be an actual rant.
2 out of 5 blood pacts.
(UPDATE August 2021: Looks like WB are less keen on this franchise too these days, and seem to want to wrap it up after three films. The director is apparently looking for something else to direct, and JK Rowling is stubbornly digging that hole of hers even deeper. It really does appear transphobia is indeed the hill she’s willing to let the Wizarding World franchise die on. I’m not the only fan who has gone off Harry Potter in the past year or so. It’s a real shame, it used to be a big part of my life, but the joy I used to feel around it simply isn’t there anymore.)