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After Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them in 2016, J. K. Rowling showed that there were legs to a cinematic wizard-verse opposite the Harry Potter franchise, now known as ‘The Wizarding World’. So, pre-Potter, the planned 5-film Fantastic Beasts series continues with The Crimes of Grindelwald, as Johnny Depp’s white-haired, odd-eyed, title baddie and his nefarious plans take centre stage, at least, that’s what we thought, as this sequel, while fun, sadly doubles down on some faults of the first film and the results are both spectacular but also a tad overloaded.
The central story concerns the troubled young Credence (Ezra Miller), who is revealed to be still alive after the events of the last film and is seeking out who he really is (this film’s biggest mystery), meanwhile Grindelwald has escaped from custody (as shown in a blood pumping opening sequence) and is about to set in motion his plans for a new order to the magical (and non magical) world. Naturally, the powers that be are in a panic at the villainous wizard’s escape and set out to find and eliminate Credence who is seen as vital to Grindelwald’s plan. However Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has other plans, as he aims to find Credence first and help the young man, and he is secretly aided in this pacifist quest by old teacher and friend Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). In addition to all this, there are loves formed, friendships tested, old friends back in action, discoveries made and a load of fantastic beasts on top.
As you can see, there is a mighty amount of material here and as a result, despite its hefty 2-hour running length; the film feels a bit too overstuffed to emerge entirely coherent. There are so many wild and wonderful ideas, that you cannot help but be enthralled by certain moments but Rowling’s screenplay does occasionally seem to get lost in its own lore and risks losing all but the hardcore fanbase. There is a real whiff of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy about it, in that this world is so rich and full of imagination that the urge to revel in this is a very overpowering one and, while still enjoyable, The Crimes of Grindelwald’s story suffers as a result of this. As well as the excessive franchise building which, when all is said and done, leaves this feeling like a pure visual spectacle filling the gap between the far meatier and more vital next leg of the journey.
Opening brilliantly and closing with a timely Trump era-baiting rally sequence, with jolts of excellence in-between, overall the film feels like this series’ answer to The Deathly Hallows Part I and you are left feeling that this movie, with all its love sub-plots, muggle confusing jargon and surplus of characters, is the groundwork for a no doubt riveting next step, which will be the stuff that is really important. That all being said, despite the mixed press, this uncontained imagination does offer some impressive moments within.
The return to Hogwarts feels special, particular set pieces are delivered with plentiful action and absorbingly well rendered special effects and any scene with Grindelwald and Dumbledore really does capture that same magic that lit the Potter series and there are hints that their relationship will come to be something the future films will thankfully be built around. The creatures themselves also continue to amaze and/or melt the heart (Baby Nifflers oh my god!), and the architecture of the marvellous settings and hidden magical realms (across the globe) within our own is really quite extraordinary.
Depp and Law are the undeniable show stealers and while the prior feels warm and dignified, the former feels chilly and uncomfortably persuasive and you wish you saw more here of their connection but doubtless that will be expanded upon more down the line. Redmayne remains as adorably innocent as some of the creatures he cares for as Newt and there is some good support by Dan Fogler and Zoë Kravitz, among a great big cast, some of which are let down a bit by a script that has characters jostling for attention.
Still, in spite of its faults, The Crimes of Grindelwald will cast a spell on the passionate fanbase and when the classic notes of John Williams’ “Hedwig’s Theme” kick in, alongside James Newton Howard’s all-round brilliant soundtrack, you know that the magic is still very much alive. And come the final revelation and sequence, there is a sense that the preliminary stuff is now mostly sorted, and the real story can begin. Hopefully.