WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2018)
Director: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Kim, Jude Law, Johnny Depp
After the moderately high success of 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (high box office returns, average critic response), fans have been speculating where J.K. Rowling and David Yates will take the story of Newt Scamander in the (apparently) five upcoming movies. The first to start answering those questions is The Crimes of Grindelwald, or, more to the point, it raises more questions than answers.
Having been captured in New York by MACUSA official, Gellert Grindelwald (Depp) won’t be shackled for long. After escaping, he heads to Paris to seek out the chaotic Obscurus, Credence Barebone (Miller), to recruit him to his growing legion of adoring wizard fanatics in his battle against the muggles/No-Maj’s. Magizoologist Newt Scamander (Redmayne) is tasked by his old teacher, Albus Dumbledore (Law), with the job of finding Grindelwald once more – though he is more interested in finding his friend Tina (Waterston) and developing that relationship instead. Joined again by muggle Jacob (Fogler) and Legilimens Queenie (Sudol), the dangers and trouble that lies ahead mean sides need to be picked ahead of the impending showdown.
Fantastic Beasts was a fun, if not vital, addition to the Wizarding World canon, giving us enjoyable new characters, cute beasties and intriguing nods to characters from the original Potter saga. It set up some interesting leads for the upcoming movies to follow and its most disappointing aspect was the reveal that Colin Farrell won’t be back. The Crimes of Grindelwald takes the baton and runs with it, but at times it seems unsure in which direction to go. It was if Rowling just couldn’t decide whether to focus on Newt’s story and Tina, the beasts, Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald, just Grindelwald himself, the Lestranges, Credence’s background, Queenie and Jacob, the politics – there was so much going on that at times, it all felt quite heavy with current and future exposition. That’s the greatest crime I could level here, there’s too much foundation-laying and not enough crucial narrative. Whilst the revelation at the movie’s denouement is saga shattering, there was an awful lot that seemed to contradict what came before – however, with three more movies to come, chances are these moments will be explained away by the end. That said, I enjoyed the movie on an entertainment level and never lost interest.
Eddie Redmayne is once again jittery and fun as Newt, he feels more composed within the role this time despite not being afforded much more depth – he’s made to be more of a ladykiller this time around. Johnny Depp was just great as the politically-minded murdered Grindelwald and Jude Law is just as reliable as you’d expect – the two of them really bringing something extra (akin to Farrell) and their future showdown should be excellent. Sadly, the returning Katherine Waterston is really dealt a bad hand here, she’s very much relegated from her role in Beasts and the character of Queenie has a few shortcomings also. Zoë Kravitz as Leta Lestrange is very good and Ezra Miller too, however, the majority of the cast don’t really get any huge development (regardless of whether this is part two of five) which is disappointing (how does sweet Claudia Kim as Nagini become twisted into Voldemort’s snakemate?) Dan Fogler probably receives the biggest arc of the characters as wise-cracking No-Maj Jacob.
As expected, The Crimes of Grindelwald looks great – the visual settings look suitably dated and the return to Hogwarts was a pleasure – especially with Hedwig’s Theme ringing through the auditorium – and, for the most part, the CGI was up to scratch too (thankfully including the climactic showdown). There are fewer beasts here and I have to wonder how much prominence the Fantastic Beasts themselves will really have further down the line – but my favourite Niffler was back and this time THERE WERE BABY NIFFLERS TOO! IN FACT, ONE WENT FLYING ON A CHAMPAGNE CORK IN SLOW MOTION AND MY LIFE IS COMPLETE. Ahem. There was a clash of tones throughout, from the moments of levity to darker moments including babies (yep…), and the darker filter to scenes took away a lot of the first movies jovial atmosphere but I found the pacing to be just fine – from the action-packed intro to the…action packed conclusion.
As a second chapter, The Crimes of Grindelwald actually managed to pile on more questions than answers which leaves the potential for future sequels to become bloated with tying up loose ends whilst furthering the story. Whether this happens remains to be seen, however, for this instalment I found myself enjoying it more than the first. There are issues, there are canon contradictions, but for entertainment value, I had a good time. When it’s good, it works and through the (cluttered) mess of story threads lies some real intrigue for future chapters. Also, Nifflers.
November 16th 2018