As a Harry Potter fan, well, not from childhood, but since I read the first book in my mid 20's or so, anything related to The Boy Who Lives has excited the Potterhead in me. I admit I belong to the camp who swear by the books and look down upon the films. In my Muggle opinion, the HP movies may have not done complete justice the myth and characters of the books, but I love them anyway for giving author JK Rowling's magical world a visual representation. The same credit should go to the spinoff, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and its just-released sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald. The problem, however, with both the movies are that it doesn't have a strong narrative to stand on, unlike the previous films.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them ended with Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), under the guise of an Auror, getting caught and imprisoned in New York while trying to capture an Obscurus. As expected, that imprisonment doesn't last long, as the sequel begins with Grindelwald escaping when he was getting transported back to Europe to answer for his crimes. The escape scene may lack the tension of the chase scene at the beginning of the Deathly Hallows Part I, but it is well-executed visually, while also giving us a glimpse of Grindelwald's power.
The Dark Wizard reaches Paris where he recruits more followers, while his aim is to capture Credence (Ezra Miller), the Obscurus who is mysteriously alive (with no explanation given as to how). Credence is a part of a travelling circus of freaks, and with the help of his recently acquired friend Nagini (Claudia Kim), is in search of his real identity.
Credence is also sought by the Ministry of Magic, and a young, dashing Hogwarts professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), albeit for different reasons. While Ministry wants Credence killed before Grindelwald gets to him, Albus wants to save him because, of course, that's what Dumbledore would do. And they both try to recruit the same man for the task - the unlikely, reluctant hero of the spinoffs, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who is banned from travelling outside of London, following the events of the first film. While Newt rejects both their requests to find Credence, the call of the heart makes him go to Paris when he learns his crush Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is there trying to save Credence. Joining him in the fray is his old No-Maj friend Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who remembers everything now (after having lost his memories in the memory sucking rains in the last film), and his mind-reading girlfriend Queenie (Alison Sudol).
And they are not the only one complicit in the 'Crimes' of making this film bloated. There is also Newt's elder brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and his fiancee Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), who was earlier in love with Newt (and perhaps, still is). There is also the mysterious Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), who is also searching for Credence with a hidden agenda of his own. And lest we forget, the titular Beasts themselves. Although, this time, they are often shunted to the stables to accommodate the multiple subplots in the film.
Which is a pity, since Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald works best when the screen brings these strange and yet fascinating creatures, born from the vivid imagination of Rowling, to play. From the returning favourites like Bowtruckle and Niffler to new creations like the adorable Chinese dragon Zouwu, the movie turns magically alive when they are in the forefront. Have to also mention here is that special effects are top-notch, perhaps the best in the whole series. Also love those panning shots that capture some fascinating panorama and moments. However, I am not a fans of the Deathly Hallows-like pall that the movie adopts so early (when there are more followups to come).
Unfortunately, the Beasts live along with squabbling wizards, who dominate most of the screen time. David Yates, the director (also responsible for the final two instalments of the main canon), does admirable work in creating the canvas for the film, and for the more engaging action parts. He, however, is often let down by the expansive screenplay crammed with subplots, that makes us wish someone would wave a magic wand at the 133-minute long screenplay and scream 'Reducto!'
It is not that these subplots are without its merits, there are some very good, engaging and even touching moments. But with so many crammed into one films, we hardly invest ourselves in any of these stories or the characters.
Like for example, the whole Leta Lestrange subplot. Carrying the shame of her family name on her shoulders, Leta has an important role to play in the events of the films, while sharing a connection to both Newt and Credence. However, the emotional tinge that her story carries fails to make you sympathise with her turmoil. It's all because the movie suddenly asks you to empathise with this absolutely new character, who doesn't even get enough scenes to earn that final payoff.
The same goes even for the main, returning characters. Newt and Tina's romance is under-explored, save for a subtly humorous, lovely scene in an archive room. Thankfully, Eddie Redmayne makes for a goofily affable Newt, and we really wish that he would go off to some creature-saving expedition rather than get himself involved in wizard wars.
Kowalski and Queenie's love story, which was one of the first film's strong points, had a tragic yet sensitive nuance to it in the sequel - a sort of magical world's love jihad. Yet, some of the unexplained actions and lack of screentime leave both these lovable characters in a limbo. Which is tragic, since Fogler and Sudol still bring that likeable charm to the table.
And there are the Potter callbacks that range from lovely to amusing to utterly disposable. The return to Hogwarts (and a inclusion of another fan-favourite teacher, much younger) will elicit whistles from the Potterheads (and it comes with the trademark tune too). There is also a murder scene that mirrors Voldemort trying to kill a baby Harry. However, the inclusion of Nagini and Sir Nicholas Flamel feel like a convenient fan-bait rather actual plot devices.
I can pinpoint the problem to a lack of a real protagonist in the story. In the Harry Potter movies, we follow the events through Potter, as characters and events are developed around him, Here, Newt, the supposed main character, are kept out of the scheme of things for so much time, that even after two movies, I am yet to figure out how he matters in the Grindelwald vs Dumbledore war.
That brings me to my biggest grouse in the film - how sparsely the movie uses its biggest star additions to the cast.
Johnny Depp's Grindelwald may have his name in the title of the film, but The Crimes of Grindelwald doesn't show enough of his crimes, and thereby, doesn't make him a very formidable villain. If you remember Goblet of Fire, you realise that even with a limited screentime, Ralph Fiennes' Voldemort had such a terrifying impact. Depp gets to shine the best in the climax, that uses some real-life political inferences, where Grindelwald gets to show how convincingly dangerous his tongue is.
Jude Law makes for a really cool Dumbledore, who retains the twinkle in his eyes. The movie does touch upon his past 'closer than brothers' connection with Grindelwald in a subtle manner, with a final twist that makes inroads into his background (though, if you are a Potter fan, you know it makes little sense). However, his screentime could be called more of an extended cameo. We really needed more Dumbledore (and less other new characters) here. Hopefully, the sequel(s) might change that, the way the film ends.
The Crimes of Grindelwald tries to tackle too many things in its runtime, but in the end, we really don't what exactly the movie has tried to achieve other than being a money-making entry.
Watch The Trailer of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald here -
- The Beasts
- The visual opulence
- The performances
- Some good, scattered moments
- A couple of action sequences
- A bloated screenplay
- A couple of subplots could have been excised
- The main characters get a raw deal
- Some of the twists feel like over-done fan-service
If you are watching Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald purely to soak in the visual effects and be delighted at the Potter Easter eggs, the movie will certainly not disappoint you. However, if you expected the sequel to justify the need of expanding the lore, while making its own identity, failing to do that remains the movie's biggest 'crime'. Something even the first part didn't succeed to do!