What has become apparent now through two Fantastic Beast movies, is the serious lack of compelling characterization. In the first film, we are introduced to the shy, mush-mouthed Newt Scamander. While Eddie Redmayne, being the world class actor that he is, gives a solid performance, there is nothing to latch onto with Newt. In the latest entry of the franchise, The Crimes of Grindelwald, nothing has changed on that front, and now the movie around him takes a step back as well. While the first entry does a wonderful job world building and shining a light on some fun new characters. This follow-up tosses that all aside to focus on convoluted set-up for future films, and a scattershot plot that never really connects in a meaningful way.
In this follow-up, we are introduced to Gellert Grindelwald, a wizard with some dastardly ideas of letting pure-blood wizards rule the world. Johnny Depp steps into the role and though he looks the part and acts the part, the problem is the writing. Grindelwald is terribly uninteresting villain, barely qualifying as one at all. Though he may have a bigger role to play going forward, the movie ultimately serves as fodder for fans to speculate as to what will happen next. We never get a real sense of connection between any of the characters.
Jude Law joins Depp in the film adding some much need household name recognition, and creditability to the series. Law plays a young Albus Dumbledore and he’s great, but we are left yearning for more. In fact, thats a central issue with this film. The Crimes of Grindelwald opens spectacularly, giving us our first look at Depp in the title role. From the outset, the pieces are put in place for Depp to really own this role, and for the movie to establish a credible and menacing villain. But the film pulls back, and we never really get the menace, and the backstory is so crudely given and dismissed, it feels incomplete.
No doubt we are set up for a collision course between Grindelwald and Dumbledore, and I’m sure it will be great when it happens. Still, the movie doesn’t give the audience enough to crave that because of the lack of explanation of their history. We understand their bond, and an oath they swore to each other, but beyond that, the script leaves much to be desired in terms of their back story. It is all very inside baseball as director David Yates and Rowling expect the audience to know everything, and some key elements are never explained. Even for someone like myself who while not having a rich knowledge of the universe, I have a solid grasp on most of the finer details. Finer details like knowing the events of this film present curious contradictions with Harry Potter lore.
The cast turns in expectedly great performances. Redmayne captures the timid Newt with nuance and certainly improves upon his first turn as the character. The relationship between Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol), a highlight from the first film, does have a distinguishable arc, but it ultimately falls flat as well. The rest of the supporting cast does an admirable job as well. Given the script, there isn’t much more they can do. They are surrounded by some really great visuals and the creature designs are also terrific.
Rowling’s books and knowledge of this world is deep, and she knows it inside and out. So much so, that often time this new installment is messy, and assumes you already know everything. Perhaps a refresher on the first film could’ve done some good, but for those who missed it, you’ll be completely lost. Rowling hasn’t quite mastered this craft, packing a convoluted story into a small space. There is so much story to be had, the movie can’t avoid long, drawn out exposition dumps that dramatically slow the pace of the film down.
With a lack of characters to care about, The Crimes of Grindelwald is ultimately tough to get through. We cared about Harry, Ron and Hermione and their growth. This franchise has introduced far too many characters and as a result, there’s no one to latch onto. That being said, this franchise isn’t doomed. The set-up could pay off nicely as at least some of the plot threads introduced have some intrigue. As a standalone movie, this one just doesn’t hit the mark.