Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

“I can’t admire people whose answer to everything that they fear or misunderstand is “kill it.”

Following the magical re-introduction into the wizarding world after some necessary time off, part 2 of a scheduled 5-part film series, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald reaffirms what went wrong in its predessor Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Only this time, its more pronounced. This sequel to a magically charming film is plot heavy, convoluted, and doesn’t do well with fresh faced fans starting out with this series having never watched the 8 films that became a global phenomenon. Those of us who have been here since day 1 in 1997 or whenever afterwards and experienced each film and corresponding book deserve a pat on the back for all the manual hours of consumption.

With a title like The Crimes of Grindelwald the assumption going in is being up to speed on the relationship between the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) and his love interest slash blood packed brother and philosophical rival Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). A relationship somewhat fresh in Potter headed fans memories as detail would come out in The Deathly Hallows (the book). The film version split in two parts doesn’t mention the two ever knowing one another. So right away, author turned screenwriter J. K. Rowling may alienate those who never picked up a paperback.

What’s the saying, knowledge is power? I guess it applies to knowing all intricate details of a fictional universe, too.

Being back in the wizarding world adds a familiarity to it – though not centered on 3 extraordinary young wizards and a witch, exploring other counties hidden magical world makes the trip worth visiting. Sorry muggles, these destinations don’t apply to you, only if you’re invited or a muggle-born witch or wizard. From their customs, to their clothing to how they view others to their ministry of magic, it all feels individualistic – Rowling can make any other country stand out as if we have been introduced to these locales since the beginning. Outside the famous castled school resides a lush environment and gorgeous landscapes full of different creatures that this film is based on. Each of these said creatures is expertly known by Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) the magizooligist.

This Fantastic Beasts is less about them and more about the growing conflict. It was much simpler when Newt would only focus on the care of magical creatures.

After the escape of Grindelwald to open the film, the soft spoken, misunderstood Newt is on the travel ban list by the British ministry of magic. To get the ban lifted, Newt is given the opportunity to join the fight against Grindelwald with the aurors, mostly pressured by his brother Theseus (Callum Turner). With Grindelwald on the loose and Credence (Ezra Miller) suspected of being alive after the events in New York, Credence is out there looking for his parentage in Paris. While simultaneously the vibrant, non chalant Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol) and her supposed obliviated muggle love-interest Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) make the trip overseas to visit Newt.

Returning along with Rowling, who wrote the script for Crimes of Grindelwald is director David Yates. Directing his 6th entry in the franchise, Yates gets the most out of his cast – they all look comfortable in their shoes returning to roles that were newly created in the prior film. As the leader of this mismatched group Redmayne still has an air of mystery behind his eyes, almost a confusing look as to why he’s constantly involved when he would rather stay firmly planted in his suitcase. But something’s off with what he brings to Newt, somehow holding back, not fully buying into the idea when faced with another witch or wizard or the possible destruction of the secrecy that the magical community is desperate to hold on to. When Newt is with his beloved creatures, Redmayne comes alive, allowing himself to be more free.

The two new additions to the cast, the ones we all clamor to see, Jude Law and Johnny Depp easily steal the spotlight off Newt, Tina (Katherine Waterston), Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) and everyone else. Perfectly embodying a younger Albus, Law has the devilish personality that Michael Gambon brought with a touch of Richard Harris’s sympathetic nurturing side. Soft spoken but firm in his convictions while opposite, Depp brings the necessary unpredictable chaos to a dark wizard. Both dark lords that Potter heads have come to fear and loathe share similar qualities and personality traits, however Fiennes makes it more believable and terrifying.

Probably due to a lack of a nose.

The dual performance between Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp is sure to scratch some heads – Farrell is perfectly sinister in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I’m sure scratching mine, why not have one person play both instead of creating confusion?

Muddying the script even further is a love story that’s forced to play catch up and make sense to the characters motivations. Again, much more simplified when love was the last thing on Newt’s mind. Just a feeble attempt to dangle the recognition carrot in front of our eyes.

Along with several different plots set up and followed through unsuccessfully that’s sure to confuse the most loyal Potter fans, Rowling takes the film back to Hogwarts for a scene or two, in the classroom that Professor Lupin taught in and even gave the same lesson on boggarts and throws familiar names into the story only for the sake of recognition. It’s wonderful seeing a younger McGonagall and all but it shifts the focus off Dumbledore and the main narrative. Rowling already has her main cast, no need to constrict a vast and promising expanding world.

Reoccurring themes of supremacy, prejudice and bigotry return and are heavily relied upon as the nonviolent threat wizards and muggles continuously face from one another. We all fear what we don’t understand and from the looks of it, a lack of communication and empathy has been passed down from generation to generation. Those like Grindelwald use hatred and anger to deflect their prejudice and amass a following while others like Dumbledore use compassion and understanding to sympathize with the misunderstood. Even within the magical community, bloodlines have always been at the forefront of conflict between groups. With The Crimes of Grindelwald, the kid gloves are off and the accusations hold more weight in the world.

Still, what remains the main draw that brings the masses back to the famed wizarding world is the magic itself. Green and white light flashes against the pleasing on the eye aesthetic the city of Paris boasts. Add to that the iconic theme by John Williams, paired well with James Newton Howard’s score. Once the riff starts, becoming fully invested in the world again, like clockwork, every two years is way to easy. Yates knows exactly how-to-pull on fans heartstrings. Set up to be guaranteed to continue in a 3rd film, the choice however to bridge the gap is anti-climactic that will confuse even the more knowledgeable fans of the entire series. Spin-offs pose a ton of potential and with the first Fantastic Beasts film, the studio made it readily available for the next generation of casual fans to be sorted into a house but this Fantastic Beasts serves as a reminder that only those who know the secret password are allowed to enter.

Written By: J. K. Rowling

Directed By: David Yates

Music By: James Newton Howard

Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim, William Nadylam, Jude Law, Johnny Depp

Where to Watch: HBO Max

Release Date: November 16, 2018

Running Time: 2 Hours 14 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 36%

My Score: 2 out of 5

Based On: The Wizarding World by J.K. Rowling

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