Much rides on this second entry in the Fantastic Beasts’ franchise. When J. K. Rowling first wrote a script for The Crimes of Grindelwald, it was to be the middle part of a trilogy. And yet, we now know a further three films lie ahead. Whether the series can thrive, as did its parent: Harry Potter, depends on this one’s capacity to keep the ball rolling. So, how does it stack up? Too much rolling, not enough balls.
No single problem hampers The Crimes of Grindelwald. Rather, the film, which is directed by returnee David Yates, is riddled with them. Weak characters, ludicrous, hole-ridden plotting and a severe lack of gumption undermine what should have been a welcome return to the Wizarding World. It’s not all bad by any means – the effects are actually better than the first and there are a handful of wonderful set pieces – but that’s hardly the ringing endorsement fans of the long running, financially lucrative series will be wanting to hear. If Fantastic Beasts felt like an adventure, this uneven follow up is more of a trek.
A frenetic opening makes for a promising start to the film, which unfolds mere months after its predecessor’s finale, with the hokum pocus coming later. Last time, Colin Farrell was revealed to be Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindelwald in disguise – the reverse would have been preferable, it must be said – but here we witness the dark wizard spectacularly escaping his imprisonment, whilst being transferred from New York to Germany. Once free, Grindelwald heads to Paris in search of troubled Obscurus Credence (Ezra Miller), who, it transpires, did not die as thought in the last film. Questions still shroud the importance of Credence in Rowling’s grand schema but here we learn tantalising – occasionally daft – details about his ancestry and background.
While Grindelwald’s devious misdoings demand attention, Eddie Redmayne’s lovable Newt Scamander remains the film’s keystone. When a young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law – great) recruits Newt to track down and save Credence, it’s not long before the bumbling magizoologist too winds up in Paris, albeit more concerned with finding estranged love interest Tina (Katherine Waterston) than saving the world. Dan Fogler’s Jacob Kowalski, the muggle accidentally involved last time around, tags on, also on the hunt for love, whilst new strands for new characters compete for prominence too. Unfortunately, the more these elements stack up, the more the initial energy dissipates and the less involving the film becomes.
Rowling’s trademark politics and morality thrum through The Crimes of Grindelwald and gift all occurring with an entirely present relevance to contemporary currents. The populist agenda of Grindelwald can’t help but remind of a certain American president, whilst the familial divisions between sides snares somewhat akin to a Brexit metaphor. Race relations, meanwhile, are tackled naively. Newt may live by the motto ‘There are no strange creatures, only blinkered people’ but it is hard to feel too strongly in sympathy for the supposedly time-torn relationship of Jacob and Tina’s – very white – sister Queenie (Alison Sudol).
This is, in part, due to low level of threat that pervades all within the film. The hunt for Credence is weakened by Grindelwald’s faith that ‘he will come to me’ and the fact that the troubled character is hardly a tough find, wandering around the streets of Paris. And yet, said Rues and such wanderings do at least offer a pleasing opportunity for world building – the film is a visual treat, if nothing else – and there is more than enough extraneous detail here to serve the most dedicated of hardcore fans. With contradictions and plot holes abound, these are literally, more than enough.
It is disappointing to critique the Wizarding World quite so harshly but an offering this slack really has it coming. There’s plenty of magic in Rowling’s script but its structure is far from spellbinding.