It was inevitable that the Harry Potter franchise was going to remain left untouched by the hands of meddling; its even clearer that now the direction seems to be one headed for disaster, as this tiny 200 page book is looking to be adapted into 5 films. All I can say before I get into this is that I don’t see a future where this franchise reaches anywhere near the stakes or cultural impact seen from the Potter films, no chance.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is a sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) and continues the story of Newt Scamander and his companions as they fight against the dark wizard Grindelwald.
Simply put, the screenplay and overall story of this film is anything but magical. I had a lot of problems with this film and this certainly stands as the first Harry Potter franchise film that I not only didn’t enjoy, but disliked. Falling short in almost every single category save production design, the little good this film does vanishes like a blur in the crowd from all the busyness this film unloads. The vast majority of this movie acts like a dog chasing its own tail, there’s a vague direction that it wants to go in, but there’s no purpose or intent behind that direction, helped little by the fact that the plot was stretched larger than the Knight Bus zipping through the streets of London.
This film is thin, it’s muddled, and it truly feels like a filler movie with a blockbuster budget, and in reality, that’s exactly what it is. Audiences are bombarded with plot revelations that were not only outrageously confusing to understand but also meaningless to the overall story and characters – it didn’t matter, I didn’t care, and there was no reason for the film to build toward it in such a way.
I cannot stress enough how confusing this film got at one point or another, it felt as if we were hit square in the face with a confundus charm. The confusing elements in this film were not due to depth or complexity of the story, but from sloppy setups and an overload of information all at once, information that had no meaning behind it and felt like it served only to fill runtime. Ultimately in its desperation to splinter 5 films from a single book that resulted in inevitably feeling the cost of it all; much like a Horcrux, with each split it lost a part of itself. Why Rowling went in this direction is a mystery, as she yet again helms the title of screenplay writer for this film, demonstrating that writing a novel and writing a screenplay are different animals; they must be treated much like the beasts that inhabit the wizarding world, each requiring their own method of care; in Rowling’s hastiness to tame this needlessly long story she’s bitten directly on the hand for her eagerness. Rowling has far from improved from her previous work in screenplay writing with David Yates joining her hand in hand in this decline.
I wish we could say the villain was menacing and the performances take us to a new Avenue, but that was not the reality that unfolded. Johnny Depp helms the role of Grindelwald, a dark wizard with an intent to reimagine the world in his own eyes. From what the films and books tell us, Grindelwald is supposed to be powerful, seductive, and fiery – his personality ignited passion in his followers much like an earlier Tom Riddle. Johnny Depp simply doesn’t embody this, more than anything he looks as if he was forced on set and struggles to separate himself from the classic Johnny Depp persona. However, there was a small ray of light, as Jude Law provided a Dumbledore that felt charming and in command, something I wasn’t expecting.
Of course Eddie Redmayne as Newt is as fine and he is in the first installment – the problem is that Newt is cast aside in this film for a slurry of other meaningless characters – his character does not grow or change in this sequel. From the get-go his character had little complexity to him to begin with and it is certainly is not built upon here. Redmayne does his job much like the rest of the cast, and that’s it.
The visual effects throughout this film were choppy at best, with the visuals being a massive highlight of the previous installment audiences are instead blasted with a visual style that makes it nearly impossible to see anything on-screen. The opening scene to this film was so astronomically difficult to follow due to the visuals that I may as well have looked away from the screen. Smoky darkness, dust, bright flashing, a furiously shaking camera, and endless jump cuts, what more can be said? It was a shame to see some of the better visuals cast aside due to the inadequacies of the lesser ones.
It seems even the combined efforts of David Yates and Rowling herself aren’t enough to provide anywhere close to the same degree of quality as seen from the Potter films. The future is not looking bright for this franchise and I fear it will bleed itself out before it gets another shot at revitalization. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald casts itself into a pit, struggling to conjure stakes, generate entertainment, and cursed with stretching its already stretched storyline.