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A Crime Against Good Movies

Eddie Redmayne
Eddie Redmayne
Warner Brothers
 134 Minutes
Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp   
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald


Somewhere around the two-hour mark of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, I glanced at my watch and realized that there were only 15 minutes left in the movie, including the sure-to-be-lengthy credits. At that point, I realized two things. First, there was no way that the screenwriters could wrap up the story in the remaining time, meaning that I would be subjected to either a lame, indeterminate ending or, worse, a cliffhanger utterly devoid of emotion. Second, the only real crime I had witnessed in the earlier part of the film was the theft of two hours of my time that I would never get back.


Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second in an apparent series of Fantastic Beasts films set in the enormously popular Harry Potter universe. Since neither author J.K. Rowling nor Warner Brothers wanted to kill off their prize cash cow at the conclusion of the eight-film Harry Potter series, Rowling went back to the drawing board and penned the first Fantastic Beasts film, loosely based on a short “guidebook” Rowling wrote after the publication of her first Harry Potter novel. The guidebook was a tongue-in-cheek reference work describing several bizarre creatures that inhabited the Potter universe. But, after the finale of the Potter series, the two-part Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling turned those creatures into a screenplay for a prequel to the Potter stories set in the 1920s.


That first movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them worked surprisingly well, mainly because the CGI beasts themselves, such as a kleptomaniacal platypus called the Niffler, appealed to audiences, as did the story’s hero, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Newt was a klutzy but good-hearted wizard who related far better to the beasts in his care than to either humans or wizards around him. The film had other likable characters as well, like Newt’s human sidekick Jacob (Dan Fogler). Had it been a standalone effort, like the recent Star Wars story, Rogue One, that first Fantastic Beasts film would have been a welcome addition to the Harry Potter canon.


Unfortunately for moviegoers, J.K. Rowling always envisioned Fantastic Beasts as a franchise of its own. To that end, she introduced the character of Gilbert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) in a cameo at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts movie and made it clear that he would figure prominently in the sequel. At one time, the mere thought of Depp being involved in a franchise would have been welcome news, but by 2016, he was about as pleasant a sight to most in the audience as Jack Sparrow at one’s wedding.


True to Rowling’s word, Gilbert Grindelwald is the primary villain in the eponymous Crimes of Grindelwald, and, after escaping from the custody of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), he easily recruits many other wizards to his cause, the worldwide eradication of the non-magical Muggles. To achieve his goal, Grindelwald has to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a young wizard of sorts who apparently possesses some great power that can be used for nefarious purposes by Grindelwald. Credence was also apparently dead at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts movie, but, as we all know, being dead in fantasy movies and being really, finally dead are two different things.


Newt also is looking for Credence, on behalf of the forces of good, as exemplified by a very familiar name, Aldus Dumbledore (Jude Law). The future head of Hogwarts puts in pretty much a cameo appearance in Crimes of Grindelwald and tells Newt that he can’t personally oppose Gilbert because they share a past (strongly hinting that the two were gay lovers at one time), so Newt and his creatures instead take up the chase. Along the way, Newt rejoins old friend Jacob and new-to-this-movie brother Theseus (Callum Turner).


Crimes of Grindelwald is a movie for Harry Potter completists, those who have memorized every book or film and know just who is related to whom and how. To satisfy those people, Rowling throws a lot of familiar names into the mix besides Dumbledore. By the end of the film, viewers will learn just how Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) fits into the enormously convoluted Harry Potter genealogy, as well as a big reveal about who Credence really is. Completists will revel in the information dump, but most of the rest of the audience will have reactions ranging from bored disinterest to complete dumbfoundedness.


By the end of the movie, the audience is introduced to about fifty different characters, few of whom make any impact, and most people will be more or less bewildered. In addition, the middle hour of the film falls into the trap that most densely plotted films of this nature do. The action grinds to a complete halt as characters engage in protracted, dull monologues explaining backstories and histories that most of their viewers won’t care about.


This dense, confusing plot gets in the way of the action, which turns out to be the best aspect of the film. The handful of big set pieces are quite well staged, albeit ponderously apocalyptic in nature. Ironically, the visuals that most people want to see, the delightful creatures that were a lot of the fun in the first movie, are largely missing in action here. The Nifflers show up a couple of times, and the audience gets to see a couple of new creations, but, for the most part, these creatures are only present to justify attaching the words “fantastic beasts” to the film’s title. Similarly missing in action almost entirely are the first movie’s most entertaining couple, Jake and Queenie (Alison Sudol). She’s still in the film but somehow in Grindelwald’s camp.


The most depressing aspect of Crimes of Grindelwald is the fact that the next episode of the Fantastic Beasts series promises to be more of the same. While J.K. Rowling has been close-mouthed about the future of the series, she has noted on numerous occasions that it will run through 1945, a date that can’t be a coincidence, especially considering that Grindelwald himself starts talking about eradicating non-wizards and gives a speech that seems right out of Mein Kampf. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a magical counterpart of Hitler as the big bad, but Johnny Depp is a poor excuse for a master villain, looking more like Billy Idol after a week-long bender than an embodiment of evil.


The pleasures in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald are few and far between, while confusion and annoyance are far more prevalent. The movie isn’t poorly made but does represent a series of disastrous creative decisions. Even worse, Rowling is doing some very thinly veiled politicizing here and doing so in quite a ham-handed manner. It’s even more the shame because Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is a perfect Rowling hero in the same vein as Harry Potter himself. Sadly, Gilbert Grindelwald’s biggest crime may well be the murder of a highly popular movie franchise.

In this clip, Jude Law recruits Eddie Redmayne to take on Grindelwald.

Read other reviews of Fantastic Beasts: The Beasts of Grindelwald: 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) on IMDb