Updated: Jan 20, 2019
For a film franchise that has spanned over seventeen years, one might expect the most recent installments to be nothing more than a mere cash grab, as writer and producer J.K. Rowling attempts to milk and squeeze every dollar out of her ever loyal fan base with countless unnecessary and trivial additions to her lore. In some regards, this statement does ring true for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the latest installment in the film visioning of the Wizarding World. But in other regards, notably the visual aesthetics and mellow storytelling, it attempts to differentiate itself from the other entries in the franchise, delivering what is essentially one of the most unique and inspired entries for both the better and worse. Stridden by a stunning direction from the helm of David Yates and company and a bold, dark tone for the franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald barely makes it over its storytelling stumbles to create a remotely satisfying addition to the Wizarding World, even if its’ means of doing so is convoluted and structurally unsound.
One of the most celebrated authors of recent memory is unquestionably J.K. Rowling, author of the acclaimed and best-selling phenomenon Harry Potter. For an author whose first works were simplified and easily interpretable, it’s hard to grasp that Rowling was so overly ambitious with her latest screenplay. Featuring a total of five disparate storylines and an over-populated cast of characters, the film attempts to weave them all together into a 134-minute boundary. But doing so costs the film one of its most necessary traits-cohesive storytelling.
From a mere twenty minutes in, the story became convoluted, introducing storytelling and characters at a moment’s notice. There is no natural sensation from this storytelling and it softens the emotional impact that the CGI-stuffed third act provides. And in such convolution, the film simply doesn’t know what to do with itself. The screenplay seems to constantly stand in place, never moving an inch past the formalities of branching storytelling. Realistically, the entire screenplay and all of its arcs could have been simplified to a short film of ten minutes and the pacing would be all the better for it. What is a 134-minute feature ends up collaging into a film that feels unnecessarily over four hours.
As for the story that Rowling is attempting to squeeze in, it often comes across confusingly as both daunting and muted. Rowling, to her credit, attempts to establish intriguing character arcs within this second entry of the Fantastic Beasts franchise. And in some regards she does accomplish this goal. Returning lead Newt Scamander is as charming as ever and his personal drama of joining the fight against Grindelwald remains prevalent throughout. The dichotomy between Jude Law’s Albus Dumbledore and Johnny Depp’s disturbing Grindelwald is fascinating and intriguing, even if the two characters never physically interact in the entire film. However, these are simply these two examples and are not representative of the storytelling of the film as a whole.
Rowling, as a screenwriter poised to pen the next three installments, is looking at the entire web that this franchise is supposed to entail, rather than the entry itself. It creates a feeling that The Crimes of Grindelwald isn’t necessarily a fully-fledged entry to the franchise, but rather a mere add-on to what the future entries will hopefully develop. It seems the film knows this to as it constantly struggles to find reasons to justify its length, delivering impressive sequences of flying colors and magic to attempt to distract audiences from the confusing lack of genuine story here, outside of rushed and hollow character romances that in the context of this entry seem worthless.
As for the performances, they are mostly enjoyable, even with some notable improvements. Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander is once again charming, witty, and satirical in his awkwardness. It is a performance and character that I have found myself profoundly stupefied by, ranking the character as my favorite in the entire Wizarding World franchise. Katherine Waterston improves on her performance from the original, removing the hollow and clichéd delivery of lines with a more profound and deliberate performance that complements Redmayne’s awkwardness soundly. In addition, Jude Law as Albus Dumbledore recaptures what made the character iconic, establishing new traits and attributes that make the performances of the late Richard Harris and Michael Gambon far more respectable.
When it comes to Johnny Depp, easily the most controversial aspect of the entire production, he ultimately proves his naysayers and critics wrong with a stunning and bold performance that is creepy and disturbing. From his makeup to his subtle movement of his feet, Depp’s performance is riveting with deliberation and raw power, creating a stunning villain that may potentially overtake Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of Lord Voldemort.
But what saves the film ultimately and prevents it from becoming a hollow mess is director David Yates’ superb helming of the visual aesthetics of the production. Unlike before, shots feel far more fluid and smooth, unlike the rather choppy and chunky shots that were frequently implemented in 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It is clear Yates has poured his creative soul into this project and it represents the best work that he has ever done as a director. The creativeness of the world bleeds into every scene, from the spectacular visual effects to the subtle details of the production design. It’s a stunning production that is spectacular to look at, even if its story rarely entices audiences to do so. From a massive furry beast to a simple baby Niffler flying across the screen, every sequence is a masterclass and leads to a collective piece that could potentially rank as the most visually impressive film of the entire year and in recent memory.
Featuring a score by esteemed returning composer James Newton Howard, The Crimes of Grindelwald recycles many of the themes used in its predecessor. And while those themes are certainly spectacular and moving in their sense, they feel rather out of place here, in what is a very different film to that of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I wish that Howard had taken the time to truly find a blending between the dark, bold themes of the new and the delightful, charming themes of the past. But even such, the score is still prominent and has respectable quality but is leaps and bounds behind what Howard accomplished with the original.
In the end, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is unfortunately a weaker installment to the Wizarding World than its predecessor. It features a convoluted story from an overly ambitious screenwriter that attempts to insert far too many arcs and storylines, all resulting in a screenplay that lacks any genuine progression. But even so, its worth is still prevalent thanks to some astounding technical quirks and performances that add the hearty bit of magic that the story unfortunately misses.
Score: 7.1 out of 10
In an effort to thwart Grindelwald's plans of raising pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings, Albus Dumbledore enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided world.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD hits theaters on November 16th, 2018.