FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD

When making a film, worldbuilding can be an incredible tool. Whether it’s completely grounded in reality, totally fantastical, or somewhere in between, thoughtful worldbuilding can make a movie feel alive. It’s great joining characters on their journey, but it’s even more exciting when we’re experiencing a whole new world filled with things we’ve never seen before. It’s how we experienced such amazing universes like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and many others. However, I would argue there’s one thing that people remember over the fascinating distant worlds: the characters. 
 
In Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, dastardly dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes custody of the authorities and heads over to France. There he’ll find Creedence Barebone (Ezra Miller), an incredibly powerful child wizard who could have the power to defeat wizard Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). As Grindelwald searches for Creedence and tries to recruit more followers to his cause, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is sent by the Ministry of Magic to get to Creedence before Grindelwald does. 
 
If that sounds like a whole lot of moving pieces, it’s because it is. This is the second of five installments in J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts franchise, so of course there’s going to be a lot of things being setup, some of them not supposed to be paid off until future installments. That’s all fine and dandy, as any long running franchise does that. Even if greater story has yet to be told, you still need a self-contained story. One of the primary reasons the original Harry Potter series worked so well was because it had that strong central character in Harry Potter. At the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, he obviously has six more years of school to go and Voldemort to defeat in future installments, but the story of a normal muggle boy being thrust into a world of literal magic and destiny is completely told. So far, the Fantastic Beasts films haven’t really told any story at all. Newt Scamander is obviously the main character, but I’m never quite sure what his story is supposed to be. He literally just travels the world to capture animals. There’s not much depth to his character, and Rowling tries to make up for this with B-plot stories and characters to up the stakes. Newt’s connection to the main plot is so tenuous, though, that every time he’s in the film, it feels like a different movie. 
 
The most disappointing thing of it all was that I was actually enjoying it for the first act, or so. After the incomprehensible action scene that opens the film, we’re brought back to our characters from the first film, Newt, Tina (Katherine Waterston), Jacob (Dan Fogler), and Queenie (Alison Sudol). One of my problems with the last film was that I enjoyed these characters, but they were left aimlessly running around an overstuffed and unfocused movie. They’re fun characters, but nothing they don’t get a whole in terms of development. Here, Newt seemed to have a lot more motivation and agency in his decisions. Redmayne still plays him with that charming awkwardness, but not exudes a bit more confidence and control when more and more people try to control him. When he first gets brought into the plot, it’s fun seeing him go around and reconnect with the other characters, although the way he meets back up with them feels as contrived as the reasons he met them in the first place. At least we have a more focused story now, right? 
 
But then another plot point would begin. Then a new character would be introduced. Then a flashback would happen, which would introduce new plot points and characters. Then you realize that all of these characters are running around, yet not really doing anything. Once it rolled around to the hour mark, I was completely taken out of the film after constantly being bombarded with information. Rowling clearly loves the Wizarding World she created and seems to enjoy expanding on it, but it seems she has no idea what to do story wise. Again, that’s where Harry Potter worked. It’s a simple story about a boy first, and the magical world second. It started off as that character and his journey. With Fantastic Beasts, it all worldbuilding sitting shotgun, with storytelling and characterization taking the back seat. I’ve always enjoyed the world of Harry Potter. The magical world is really awesome with all of its grotesque creatures, neon lightning spells, anachronistic technology, and whatnot. Sure, there are some things that don’t make a whole lot of sense when you really think about them (like people constantly performing magic in front of muggles when they’re not supposed to, because the plot needs it), but the magic and everything around it has always been a fun aspect for me. 
 
It was nice that there was clearly much more care put into the world, especially the effects, where they actually have some realism and weight, as opposed to everything looking like a video game last time around. The production values are much improved too, and director David Yates continues to get more creative and whimsical with his direction. It’s a shame that the increased budget doesn’t help in improving the script, though. I guess they needed to pay absurd insurance premiums for Johnny Depp in case he threw another wine bottle at a girlfriend. Looks like it actually paid off, as Depp gave the best performance in I can’t remember how long. He steals every scene as Grindelwald, playing him with such a steely intensity and mystique, while also being charming and cunning. The climactic scene where he gives a Hitler-esque speech to a room of witches and wizards is one of the best scenes in the film, and it’s mostly due to Depp’s excellent performance. Even better, he’s a villain with a prescence. Just a shame the movie around him is lame. 
 
When the last Fantastic Beasts film came out, I claimed Rowling was the new George Lucas: a creative mind whose ideas don’t go much further past those initial sparks of creativity. Well, she’s fully embraced the title here, stuffing the film with eye rolling fan service in order to garner any excitement she can out of her fans. Well, it seems like the fans aren’t too happy either, as the reaction to the film is surprisingly tepid. I was hoping that a fantastic script would be found for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, but that’s the thing. Screenplays aren’t found, they’re written. Rowling definitely knows how to write a novel, but a screenplay? Not so much. 
 
4.5/10

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