Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. directed by David Yates and written by J.K. Rowling, is in dire need of a little bit of focus and a lot of heart. If it had either of those qualities (but preferably both) it could have really been a film to sing the praises of. Unfortunately, this will be my second review where I lament the failings of this new Harry Potter inspired franchise (though this one won’t be as negative as my review for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). So, let’s get on with the review; explore all that this film has to offer, and see if we can find a little bit of light in a review that I hope to not just be solely negative.
Following on from the events of the first film, Grindelwald – played by Johnny Depp – has escaped and is assembling an army of stringent believers whose end goals spell doom for anyone who doesn’t align with them. Albus Dumbledore – played by Jude Law – enlists the help of Newt Scamander once more, and he sends him to Paris to locate and stop Grindelwald before he can enact his dangerous plans.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is a film that is burdened with much – too much in fact. When you boil it down, what you have is a muddled, clumsy film that somewhere deep down within it has some real potential. What this film needed more than anything was focus (and I’ll probably be writing that word quite a few times during this review).
This is never a film that settles. It’s always trying to set up something else or it’s unloading an unnecessary and unwanted amount of exposition, or its overindulging in a magic infused set piece that feels like a distraction – a big colourful display – rather than a natural, necessary development of events. Those set-pieces, while grand to look at, never seem to serve a purpose, and the exposition gets worse and worse until it culminates in a scene near the end that is so badly written, that it’s unbelievable to watch unfold.
With such a lack of focus and so much being crammed into the film, you end up with an experience that feels half-baked and without any heart to it. With it being pulled in so many different directions and trying to juggle so much, it means that all of the balls drop, and nothing feels like it’s given the time to develop or find its cadence within the larger world that Rowling, Yates and Warner Bros. are trying to build.
And so, you have a film with no clear focus and a desperately unnecessary want to set up two or three other storylines (some of which won’t even come into play until the next film, or possibly the one after that) and thus everything’s left feeling incomplete or pointless. Nothing ever feels like it develops into something. It all feels like it’s in limbo until the next film. Somehow, they have spent two whole (overly long) films setting up things for later films and achieving very little (if anything) for the ones that are currently out. What it is, is unfair to the audience and extremely harmful to this new franchise of films – which so far feels like it’s still in the first act.
But what’s frustrating is that if you strip away a lot of what the film feels it needs to spend time on, and you pull the focus in and put it on just a handful of elements, then Crimes of Grindelwald could have been a more than enjoyable experience that is both satisfying to watch in the moment and exciting for what it sets up for later on. If it would have just lived in the moment and forgot about trying to set-up the other three films in the franchise; if it had just had some heart to it, then I honestly think I’d be sitting here writing a far more positive review right now. Instead, we have a franchise that’s feeling a lot like ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy right now, and NO ONE wants that!
But while the muddled mess of the film’s plot is both disappointing and also frustrating; the handling of the ever-growing group of characters is… saddening. Rowling is a writer whose ability to construct and write complex characters is what made her works of fiction so beloved. The Harry Potter books was about character before everything else. Whether that was Harry, Ron and Hermione, or it was the character of the world of magic, or the character of Hogwarts and all its little hidden secrets. Rowling built a world through characters and it’s why people connect and care about the franchise so much. So it’s a shame to now look at the state of the characters in this film.
Take who I think is supposed to be the films primary protagonist – though he’s so forgettable, I’m genuinely not sure – Newt Scamander. This is a character that is crying out for some depth. I know he connects and cares for fantastical beasts, but beyond that I don’t know who Newt is (even after two films). I have no reason or want to connect to him and his story. For me, he is simply a tool that furthers the main plot (though he goes about it in an oddly obtuse way sometimes), and beyond that he isn’t anyone.
But it’s not just Newt; everyone in these films feel designed solely to be a tool that serve the various carnivorous needs of the film. What none of them feel like are people; characters whom I care about and want to spend time with on a magical journey. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good (even great) performances behind a lot of the characters – Jude Law now being my primary reason for wanting to try to stick with this franchise; what an excellent choice he is – even Depp isn’t that bad. I just wish the extensive line-up of talented actors were given something substantial… something meaningful to work with. Instead, most of them are just there to spout exposition and be clumsily used to move the plot to its next scheduled stop.
In the end, that’s all this film really is, an amusement park ride that stops intermittently to deliver some information, only to then blast off along a track to another spot and once again unload information on to you. The moments in between get the adrenaline going or the goose bumps flowing, but there purely physical (spectacle for the ears and the eyes), there’s nothing emotional about any of it. You’re left with a disjointed film where scenes don’t line up, where conflict is clumsily forced into a moment and overall nothing feels genuine, it all feels like it’s just another moment of forced set-up for something that never seems any closer.
And so, when I think about The Crimes of Grindelwald, the primary emotions that come to me are frustration and disappointment. I’m frustrated because I do believe that with a little fine tuning, you could pull a good film out from the mess that it unfortunately is. And I’m disappointed because I can see what this franchise wants to be and where I think it’s going, and I want to be excited for that – because I feel I should point out that this film has left me slightly interested to see the next, which is something the first one never did. But I still don’t have faith that it won’t just be another experience similar to this film, where it’s setting things up for the fourth instalment (or the fifth) and never actually existing within the story it has right now.
I can’t recommend, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Currently there’s nothing here that makes this a film worth seeing. Maybe in a few years when this group of five films are done, this will be a set of films wort sitting down with and watching, but right now it’s just a big fantastical magical event on the outside, but completely hollow on the inside.
I’m of course really interested to know what you thought of The Crimes of Grindelwald, so please let me know in the comments section down below. Feel free to follow both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – and help me to grow this passion into something more. In my final words for this post I want to simply and humbly thank you for coming here and giving over some of your time to my silly ramblings. It means so much to me. Thanks you!