Those who know me or have read this blog before probably know I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I read every book as they were released and even re-read some of them multiple times. Reviews have been written about the first four original movies (the rest are coming soon) and, long story short, they’re great. However, when two years ago Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released, it didn’t feel as compelling as the saga that came before it. This year, J.K. Rowling teams up with director David Yates once again to introduce us to the second film about Newt Scamander’s adventures in which we’ll find lots of familiar faces as new foes are fought.
Before Voldemort, there was another magician that frightened the whole world. Grindelwald has a more strategic approach towards the magic world’s supremacy over that of muggles, but that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to cause death and destruction to achieve his goals. After he escapes prison, magicians fighting for equality will have to track him down and put an end to his crimes. Dumbledore, not able to fight Grindelwald by himself, will try to convince Newt, our beloved magizoologist, to follow the villain’s tracks to Paris and face him.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the script is a hot pile of garbage. Rowling tries to prove the story has lots of depth by having tons of characters have a role in it, but half of them should’ve been removed as it just makes a simple story hard to understand, not profound at all. It’s a messy, incomprehensible story with twists that don’t make sense, actually important stuff not getting the screen time it deserves, dialogues that lead nowhere and endless flashbacks that tell the origins of characters we simply don’t care about. At times it feels that fan service and having characters from the previous stories come back is more important than telling an arc that works by itself. Furthermore, it’s one of the least conclusive films I’ve watched in a very long time, and its ending doesn’t even feel like one.
Two particular elements are terribly handled in the story. One of them is violence, which is continuously used to convey how bad the villain is, but its effects are rarely shown on-screen. It is indeed a bit more brutal than the previous movies, yet the vision of the director doesn’t work as he intended for the most part. The other is the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, which is a romantic one as known by Potterheads, as it’s simply not shown not to upset those idiots who would label that depiction as a “political agenda” (and probably to be able to sell the film in the Chinese market, too). In a film where there’s many romantic relationships and none of them is treated subtly, they have mysteriously decided not to show the only gay romance. Pretty ironic, considering one of Harry Potter’s morals was the importance of bravery.
Once again the most enjoyable part of the movie is everything that has to do with beasts. Some ideas are refreshing for sure, but most of them are similar to those presented in the first film. That could’ve been a problem, but Newt’s relationship with them remains as compelling as before, which results in a joyful experience for the viewer. Those fantastic creatures are incredibly well designed too, and every time any of them was featured, my favourite being the Sniffler, the film was astonishing.
This script is handled by Yates in the directing role. I believe it’s no coincidence that the only movies directed by him that people care about are Wizarding World films. Until now his work was mediocre, with unimaginative shots and poor compositions. This time, however, it’s bad. Very bad. Action scenes are messy and difficult to follow (especially the very first one), many shots are not correctly framed, camera work is not expressive at all narratively… It’s all terrible. In addition, this meets the cinematography we’re used to in these movies, which is, once again, dull and dark. Colours don’t pop and the beautiful work that has been done in the clothing department doesn’t shine at all. There are scenes happening in daylight that look a blueish tone of grey.
Visual effects are another story, as most of the CGI is impressively handled. As a very fantastic world, lots of computer generated imagery is used, which usually results in a quite poor visual experience if the implementation is not great. Thankfully, the effects are amazing in the latest Fantastic Beasts, even if it has the usual weaknesses such as contact between actors and wide shots of a 1920s Paris. The beasts are spectacular to look at, the magic effects look awesome… Everything clicks in place.
A ton of characters means there are a lot of actors and actresses in Crimes of Grindelwald, so let’s just talk about the most prominent roles. Of course this starts with Eddie Redmayne, who once again portrays the Newt, and does so beautifully. His expressions are unique and heart-warming, quite difficult to match. In fact, in a flashback that shows a younger Newt, the actor that portrays him is place against hard light most of the time so that the change isn’t too noticeable (his lines are dubbed by Redmayne too, and they sound kinda off, which is very distracting). The most important new addition to the franchise is Jude Law in the role of a young Albus Dumbledore. He definitely does a good job, but the character doesn’t seem to be the same. The mysterious, enigmatic old magician we used to know seems to be a chatterbox that explains things, not to other characters but to the audience, this time around. What a misstep! Grindelwald is once again played by Johnny Depp, who properly plays his character even if he doesn’t completely resemble the sophistication the character is supposed to have.
All in all, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a train-wreck. The plot is absurdly convoluted and poorly handled, it’s directed terribly, most arcs are useless and dull… It’s a hodgepodge of elements that seeks to remind us of how great Harry Potter was to convince us that this new saga has a meaning, a purpose, a soul. For now, it doesn’t have any of those, and with scripts like this I highly doubt Rowling will be able to prove us wrong. However, I strongly hope I am, indeed, wrong. 3/10