Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald returns the wizarding world of Harry Potter back to cinemas just in time to hopefully rake in some serious holiday dollars. The film is the second in a planned series of five, and sees Eddie Redmayne return as Newt Scamander as the action shifts from 1920’s era New York City to Paris, France.
War is brewing between the Muggle and Wizard communities as the powerful Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has escaped from the American Ministry of Magic and is gathering support to enslave those without magic. As lines are drawn and sides have to be chosen, Newt Scamander finds himself and his friends pulled in many dangerous directions as Grindelwald closes in on his ultimate weapon: Creedence Barebone (Ezra Miller), somehow still alive after the events of the first film.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a complex film full of heady topics of hatred, prejudice and bigotry that while thoughtful, and at times beautifully executed, forgets to have any real fun or adventure along the way. A growing sense of dread permeates the film as it lays the groundwork as a prelude to war-time. The final films in the Harry Potter franchise also had a similar tone but had earned that darkness, while Beasts ends up leaving out the action in favor of exposition and flashback plot points to move the story along.
Eddie Redmayne is once again terrific as Newt and really the entire cast turn in great work – even Johnny Depp, whose casting many despised, is reserved and fairly good. New addition Jude Law as young Professor Dumbledore is a blast to watch and a clear shining point in a film full of forgettable new supporting characters. Pottermores will get chills every time Law is onscreen and salivate to see more of the character in the next film as Dumbledore’s role in this struggle becomes increasingly important.
The beasts themselves are also fantastic yet again, and The Crimes of Grindelwald introduces some terrific new additions and some twists on old favorites like adorable baby Nifflers. Overall this film looks more polished visually than its predecessor, especially when it comes to these visually stunning creations. The creatures provide some of the much-needed moments of levity and fun that are constantly choked out by the growing doom.
For Potterheads there will also be some very questionable character and story choices that will be very divisive among the fans. Since the story is constantly trying to tear our Newt and his friends Tina (Katherine Waterston), Queenie (Alison Sudol), and Jacob (Dan Fogler) apart from each other, there are quite a few frustrating, head scratching choices made by all. Queenie by far makes some very out of character and terrible decisions and the reason behind the rift between Tina and Newt in the film is so lame it would take thirty seconds in reality to resolve with a simple conversation, yet divides them nearly the whole film.
The end of the The Crimes of Grindelwald also sees a MAJOR twist that will shake the Potter mythology to the core and will again split fans as they wait for the resolution in the next installment. That issue is yet again one of the biggest problems for an at-times brilliant film: the entire plot is exposition and setup for a next installment without ever feeling satisfying as a stand-alone film.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is quite often a beautifully executed film, from the cinematography to the special effects, and has moments of brilliance even with (and including) its dark subject matter. Unfortunately as a film it takes way too long to get moving and when it finally does, far too close to the end, an already long movie feels like it left off an actually satisfying conclusion.