It’s hard to really pinpoint what went wrong with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the word “convoluted” being the only satisfactory summary in polite terms. Impolite terms paint a better picture, but might be too harsh. The film is not so much a clusterfuck as it is a drawn out session of unenthusiastic foreplay with occasional bursts of excitement in between.
After Grindelwald (Johnny Depp, back in good form) escapes prison with the help of his grim followers, aurors scatter across England and France in pursuit. Meanwhile Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) finds himself under a strict travel ban due to the collateral damage he left behind in the States. He violates the ban to track down Grindelwald at the behest of a young and dashing Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), but also partly to pursue Tina Goldstein, the American auror whom he befriended in the first film. No-Mag Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) has inexplicably recovered his memory after being obliviated and now has a strenuous relationship with Tina’s telepathic sister, Queenie. Their relationship will be tested by the threat of tyrannical blood-purism and an inconsistent script!
If this franchise had the literary foundations of the original Potter series, or characters with long histories, the story developments might have worked. Instead, with a few exceptions, the plot feels like a meandering series of upsets which undermines the groundwork set by the first film. We’ve just gotten to know these characters and the paths they are on, so to suddenly change their trajectory and role simply can’t hold the emotional weight the filmmakers want it to. Reversals such as this need to come after a long period of gradual building of a status quo. These films have no status quo, so the result just feels like being jerked around.
New characters clutter the story, as well. Zoe Kravitz plays Leta LeStrange, an expansion of her small role in the first film. Engaged to Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), brother of Newt, the pair come across as the only justifiable inclusions. Otherwise, the presence of Nagini (Claudia Kim), the future horcrux of Voldemort, Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam), a mysterious French-African wizard, the famous Nicholas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowski) and a cadre of villainous cohorts distract from the important characters and action and succeed only in making the plot less concise.
Another consideration could be made for these elements if they had either been included in the last film or could have been pushed off until the next. While misguided, this is by no means an unnecessary sequel. The return of Newt, his fantastic beasts, and compelling characters like Credence (Ezra Miller) are welcome. Likewise, Jude Law makes a wonderful Dumbledore—energetic and maybe a tad naïve due to his age, but wise and noble despite it. My only gripe would be that he doesn’t get enough screen time. Crimes of Grindelwald may not have been very good, but the potential for a satisfying conclusion still very much exists. | Nic Champion