Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald
Brandon Richardson | 17/11/2018
Newt Scamander and his zoo of weird and wonderful creatures returns to the big screen in David Yates’ Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. While it does enough to satisfy the magical craving of fans of the wizarding world, the laying of foundations for films to come detracts from the sense of wonder generated by its predecessor.
No sooner than Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is captured at the conclusion of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, he is escaping captivity in an enthralling display of wizardry and deception. With his newfound freedom, Grindelwald sets out to track down Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who has managed to survive the ordeals of the previous film and has fled to France to trace his heritage. Meanwhile, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is tasked to find Credence before Grindelwald by an old but familiar teacher of his, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Hearing that Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) is in Paris, and believing that Credence can be saved from the evil power within him, Newt races to Paris to find both Tina and Credence before he succumbs to the charm of Grindelwald.
When the bulk of late teens and 20-somethings have grown up on new Harry Potter releases every two years or so, it is hard to imagine any film that somewhat fills that void will be received anything but warmly by audiences. The Crimes of Grindelwald is no exception to this. The return of the awkward and bumbling Newt Scamander as an unlikely protagonist, and his enigmatic portrayal by Redmayne, is a welcome one. The first installment in the series left us wanting to know more about our hero, and here we gain insight into his Hogwarts days, his relationships and his motivations. Contrary to the characters of the Harry Potter series who seemed fated to fall into heroism and conflict through prophecy and readily accept it, Newt is a bystander with no interest in choosing sides. He receives no fame or glory for his actions, and yet his love for all creatures compels him to choose what is right. The evolution of this neutrality and his response to the pressing circumstances are perhaps the most compelling narrative in this series, with only the intrigue and devastation of Credence to rival it. Despite these strengths, The Crimes of Grindelwald suffers from the challenge being the second entry in a trilogy; it primarily serves to set up the thrilling finale. And this would be fine, were this indeed a trilogy as opposed to the five film series planned.
Although the story is certainly there, it is nowhere near as complete as that of its predecessor. The film is built as a series of competing narratives that are tied, somewhat loosely, together in a final confrontation; those of Newt, Credence, Grindelwald and Dumbledore. The casting of Johnny Depp in the role of the Voldemort prototype has certainly been controversial, but he does just enough to sell the messages that inspire his followers. However, we are never really treated to real display of the power of what is supposedly one of the greatest wizards of all time, which is likely being reserved for his pending legendary battle with Dumbledore. Jude Law is convincing as a younger, more enthusiastic Dumbledore, although will likely take adjusting to in the same way that Michael Gambon did. But again, his presence in this film is primarily to justify his existence in the finale. This sequel relies on its audience to be familiar with the events of the first, and expects they will be satisfied with only a minor climax to tie them over to the next. In the scheme of things, this approach is familiar to audiences and will primarily generate excitement for the next installment. Unfortunately what won’t be so easy to ignore is the rampant retconning.
The issues are evident from the get go, with Credence’s survival escaping explanation and the reversal of one of the most impactful scenes from the first movie, as it appears Jacob Kowalski’s (Dan Fogler) memory has been restored simply because this film necessitates it. It almost seems as though developing Fantastic Beasts into its own franchise was an afterthought (despite Grindelwald’s revelation clearly indicating otherwise). There has already been controversy over the introduction of Nagini (Claudia Kim), previously familiar as the pet snake of Voldemort, as a cursed Human destined to become trapped in the body of snake. A return to Hogwarts brings the reappearance of the Mirror of Erised, which seems to have changed its function sometime between this film and its presence in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But none of these issues compare to the stunning, and frankly unbelievable, twist that concludes the film. It won’t be spoiled here, but it is sure to generate an enormous amount of intense debate in the weeks to follow.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is not a stand out amongst the rich franchise of the Harry Potter world, and will make little sense to those unfamiliar with this world. There is simply too much information to swallow and not enough foolish wand-waving or silly incantation to balance it. Nonetheless, it is sufficient to satisfy our magical desires until the next .