Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, directed by David Yates, is best described as gratuitously unnecessary. For a film with plot twist after plot twist, it bizarrely feels as though nothing really happens at all. It teases its audience with glimmers of a better film, and relies on its stunning visual effects to make up for its lack of personality. While it holds some good performances, it lacks in charisma or anything that could leave a lasting mark on its viewers. It uses its nostalgia as a weapon in hopes to profit off of its source material’s legacy. However, it is ultimately a forgettable and messy mistake in the Harry Potter universe.
Its confusion with its own narrative make it difficult to even decipher a plot. The opening scene follows Grindelwald’s (Johnny Depp) escape from captivity, but rather than setting the stage, it feels as though we are dropped rather haphazardly into the middle of an already moving storyline. Upon hearing of the escape, young Dumbledore (Jude Law) tasks Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) with challenging Grindelwald. To do this, Newt must track down Credence (Ezra Miller), who is the only way they stand a chance against Grindelwald’s magic. However, he is not the only one searching for Credence; in fact, almost everyone in the film is trying to find Credence for some reason or another. Credence himself is in Paris, working at a magical circus, with his newfound love interest, Nagini (Claudia Kim), whose presence also serves as a wink and a nod to Harry Potter fans who know her eventual fate will result in her servitude to Voldemort. Somewhere along the way, several tangential plot lines arise to distract from the narrative. Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) struggle to compromise in their relationship, Newt’s ex-love interest Leta (Zoë Kravitz) is engaged to his brother (Callum Turner) and also possibly related to Credence, Newt’s assistant who helps him care for his magical animals is implied to be in love with him before disappearing for the rest of the film, Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Newt have had some sort of falling out, and oh, yeah, Nicolas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowsky) is there, for some reason.
Nicolas Flamel’s presence represents one of the biggest flaws of the film: it tries so hard to cram in every single fathomable reference to its source material, that the audience is left with little to no breather from the in-your-face obviousness of it all. Perhaps if the film had sustained its own sense of originality, it would have been more interesting. The wizarding world in which the story is set is vast and holds an unending wellspring of opportunities, yet at every possible turn there is some connection, familial or otherwise, to a well-known Harry Potter character or plot device. It effectively stifles its own narrative. Fans of the original series even pointed out online that the film’s inclusion of a young Minerva McGonagall (Fiona Glascott) goes against its own previously established canon. J.K. Rowling even tweeted that she had been keeping the secret of Nagini hidden for “20 years,” when it is completely clear that it was just another attempt to stay relevant and interest fans with a new, shiny, and unexpected plot twist.
Between all the plot twists, subplots, and references, the film loses its focus entirely, jumping haphazardly between its revolving storylines. There is so much to keep track of, yet effectively nothing happens at all. The last act of the film mistakes itself for drama, with several attempts at shocking back story reveals from characters with so little substance it is difficult to imagine why we are meant to care at all. There is a huge buildup to what is essentially a Trump-esque rally of Grindelwald and his followers, and a disappointing climax between the good and bad characters. By the close of the film, we are left with what boils down to a two-hour trailer for the next Fantastic Beasts movie. There will apparently be three more. How they will create a compelling plot line that lasts them until film number five is beyond me.
For a film named after its villain, Johnny Depp lacks any charisma as the leading antagonist. Instead of allowing the actor’s performances to carry the character, the film feels the need to prove just how evil its villain is by literally having its bad guys kill a baby within the first fifteen minutes. It lacks in any subtlety or nuance with its message, yet muddles its motivations. It is difficult to feel compelled or interested in anything about Grindelwald’s character, save for his relationship with Dumbledore, which is virtually ignored save for one or two throwaway scenes. Although there is some underlying queer-coding to their relationship, it is a vastly underdeveloped aspect that could have been explored further. There was such a buildup for Grindelwald as a villain, but he lacks any and all depth; for a character that is supposedly so charismatic and skilled that he is able to draw others in as his followers, it is almost impossible to find anything enticing about him.
From a more positive perspective, its budget did not go to waste. The film features captivating visual effects and wonderful set and costume design. Though there are fewer magical creatures than the first Fantastic Beasts film, those that do appear are delightfully entertaining and bring some joy to balance the darker parts of the story. Furthermore, Eddie Redmayne charms as Newt, and a majority of the supporting performances are incredibly solid. Jacob and Newt’s relationship is entertaining as ever and provides a majority of the comedic exchanges. Unfortunately, these elements are not enough to make up for the messiness of the rest of the film. The editing is poor at best, and jarring at its worst –– there were times when the editing choices rendered it nearly impossible to follow the action sequences. It also felt unnecessarily dark at times and disappointing in almost every aspect. As a whole, the magic and joy that invigorated its predecessors in the cinematic universe of Harry Potter are completely nonexistent in this film. It is a shallow journey into a world that, had it been properly utilized, could have been a delightfully new take on the Harry Potter universe with which we are so familiar. Sadly, it fails to live up to these expectations.