Film Critic Matt Taylor falls in love with Barry Jenkins' newest film, If Beale Street Could Talk - a stunningly romantic filmWritten by Matt Taylor on 8th May 2019
Multi-Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Redbrick Film explores whether The Crimes of Grindelwald, part two of the Fantastic Beasts series, spellbinds or stupefies
Despite stunning visuals, surprisingly good performances and sweet and heartfelt character moments, The Crimes of Grindelwald never actually reaches any destination. The film runs its course and by the end, you’ll feel as though it never really had a purpose. Newt Scamander, played excellently by Eddie Redmayne, finds himself pulled into the fight against Grindelwald, played by controversial actor Johnny Depp, which leads him to the Wizarding World of Paris. But the urgency every character speaks with, and the warnings of an impending threat, are mildly hilarious when you take into account that the biggest action Grindelwald makes in this film is a speech. There are no real crimes committed here, just talking and talking in order to set up the next three instalments of J.K. Rowling’s new cash machine. The film instead deploys numerous red herrings that fizzle out before the end, and while some Harry Potter fans may find the new details and world-building thrilling, much it comes across as confusing, leaving you scratching your head and wondering where and how it fits into the previous canon.
“The writing sparks with Rowling’s usual subtle wit
Yet, despite all this, I can’t deny that I enjoyed this film. Johnny Depp is surprisingly menacing and intriguing as Grindelwald, and the few scenes he is in are some of the highlights of the film. Eddie Redmayne is funny and often poignant as Newt, a pacifist now faced with an impossible choice. The beasts featured here are truly fantastic, and the introduction of new magical places such as Paris (as well as trips back to old favourites such as Hogwarts) are welcome and entertaining. Jude Law as Dumbledore was oddly surreal because, despite a lack of screen time or in fact anything of real note to do, he immediately embodies the character and I accepted that without hesitation. The writing sparks with Rowling’s usual subtle wit, while moments between Newt and his love interest Tina were tender and downplayed to brilliant effect. These small character moments were some of the best, despite the magic and beasts surrounding it.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is not a bad film. It is visually stunning and often funny and endearing. It just felt like it had no real point. You could miss out on this and I am sure the next film in the franchise would still make sense.
The latest instalment in the Wizarding World series (are they really sticking with that brand name?) really isn’t any good at all. It is largely pointless, unengaging, fails to add anything to the series, and mostly serves as shameless sequel bait.
Its one potential saving grace is Eddie Redmayne, whose Newt Scamander is given alarmingly little to do, but is fun to watch nonetheless.
“The plot goes absolutely nowhere
Apart from that there is just very little to like. Nothing is particularly bad, it’s just that nothing is particularly good either. The plot goes absolutely nowhere – by the time the credits roll we are wondering what has actually happened over the films lengthy two hours fourteen minutes. Characters both new and returning are pretty boring: Jude Law's Dumbledore doesn’t do anything at all; Callum Turner's Theseus Scamander (brother to Newt) is unbearably bland; Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) is reduced to nothing more than unfunny comic relief; Katherine Waterstone’s Tina is just there; on-screen sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) is given character decisions that make little to no sense; and Johnny Depp really is awful as big bad Grindelwald.
That’s probably the biggest issue here: other than a general feeling of treading water, Grindelwald is not a good villain. Depp’s performance doesn’t help – he puts no effort into the film whatsoever – but Grindelwald never feels like a serious threat. He just does things for reasons that aren’t made apparent, and there’s no connection with him at all to make him feel remotely real. It’s all a waste, much like the entire product.
Gellert Grindelwald's (Johnny Depp) surprise appearance at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts clearly signalled the direction this new franchise was going to take. He is essentially the new Voldemort, but not quite so follicly challenged and less-focused on pure-blood domination than freeing wizards from living in secrecy. Now, months later, Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander heads to Paris to confront both him and Katherine Waterston's Tina, going rogue on a quest of her own.
“One wishes for the injection of new blood which Alfonso Cuarón offered to Prisoner of Azkaban
Director David Yates has assembled a charismatic cast but deploys them with frustrating inconsistency. Jude Law is a charming young Dumbledore but appears too briefly. Depp is less grating than in his bewildering appearance in the finale of the first instalment. Waterston is dramatically underserved by the script considering that she is one of the most talented performers on screen. Yates's sixth Potter film makes it hard not to long for the diversity that the original series initially provided. His style is too familiar now; one wishes for the injection of new blood which Alfonso Cuarón offered to Prisoner of Azkaban.
Your mileage will vary wildly depending on your affinity for the first, but Rowling's world undoubtedly retains some magic, even if it is blunted this time by a plot which has almost no payoff (besides one throwaway line) and spends two hours working towards a single moment which is more baffling and exasperating than exciting. At least the first had the good grace to end on a note which was simple and sweet enough to leave you with a smile instead of a groan.
I had fairly low expectations leading into Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The first film had some fun set-pieces and lovable new characters, even if it didn’t quite have the same emotional impact as any of the Harry Potter films. One of the lowest points for me was the few minutes in which Johnny Depp’s Grindelwald was revealed onscreen. So you can guess my apprehension when presented with a sequel in which he is now a title character.
“The climax substitutes action spectacle for what is essentially a PowerPoint presentation delivered by Grindelwald
The Crimes of Grindelwald is very difficult to watch in a vacuum; it both being a prequel, and the second in a series of five films. Yes, there are some very entertaining moments, and some beautiful visuals and music. In particular, the scenes in Hogwarts are especially dazzling and bring back nostalgic enchantments of the years spent there by Harry, Ron and Hermione. Yet the film in general is wobbly at best, even when viewed as a mere set-up for its predestined sequels, as it struggles to even do that effectively.
The climax substitutes action spectacle for what is essentially a PowerPoint presentation delivered by Grindelwald. There is exposition so dense you may need a few tabs open on the Harry Potter Wiki to keep up. Another evident limitation to the film’s focus is its compulsion to cram in many Easter eggs and references; both to the lore of the Wizarding World and the general context of its late 1920s setting. Fantastic Beasts is not alone in this compulsion; in a cinematic age dominated by sequels, prequels and remakes it becomes inevitable. And to be fair some of these nods are quite delicate or tongue-in-cheek, but with fan service taken to this extent, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fantastic References and Where to Cite Them coming to our screens in the next few years.
The first Fantastic Beasts was a surprisingly good trip back into J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World and – with a new cast, a more global adventure and a five-film series planned – returning to this universe has been a bit of a gamble. The sequel is a decent movie, anchored by some strong performances: Eddie Redmayne as hero Newt Scamander and Jude Law excellently portraying the young Dumbledore. It boasts some of the prettiest visual effects of the year, a classy flowing soundtrack and a strong finale. Truly, The Crimes of Grindelwald had the potential to be a sequel better than the original. Sadly, it does not reach those heights.
“There are far too many characters in this film
Whilst the bells and whistles are there, with magic dazzling and bursting off the screen, some issues prevent the film from attaining the success the first did. The first half is criminally slow and some action sequences, in particular the opening action sequence, suffer from hyperactive editing. Johnny Depp as Grindelwald is fine, but lacks any real nuance and depth, as both a character and in his performance.
However, the greatest crime is the messiness of the plot. There are far too many characters in this film. From returning characters such as Tina and Queenie Goldstein, Credence and Jacob Kowalski, to the new characters such as Newt’s brother Theseus, Leta Lestrange and Nagini (in both snake and non-snake form), there is far too much going on. It is a classic issue of a lack of focus that means some characters are poor here. Katherine Waterston’s return as Tina is especially badly handled, and her character is left with very little to do. Others like Queenie and Leta do have some of the more interesting strands of the plot, but the lack of narrative cohesion really hurts this movie.
This is a film that could have been great but sadly is just fine. Hopefully, the next film will be more focused and less messy; and maybe then it can truly entrance me to the Wizarding World.
The perfect casting of Jude Law as Dumbledore is enough reason alone to watch this movie.
While the film as a whole is good – and a welcome improvement from the first Fantastic Beasts movie – The Crimes of Grindelwald is not without its issues, the confusing and dull first half in particular. It mostly functions as a mere ‘in-between’ movie, not caring for creating a clear storyline as it is dependent on its further three instalments. Hence, important moments to define certain characters are saved for future films, with Grindelwald being the ultimate example of this. Some characters (like Tina) are criminally neglected, while others (Queenie and Jacob) do have their own moments to shine.
“The magic and monsters ... continue to delight
However, The Crimes of Grindelwald does indeed have more of the magic that ignited my love for the overall franchise in the first place. The fleshing out of the wider Wizarding World feels natural for the most part, and is enjoyable to see. This includes more of the Ministries both in Paris and New York – as well as a brief ‘freak show’ circus that emphasises the darker aspects of the world. This is a common theme throughout the movie and is good for the franchise to focus on, pushing the storylines into areas that the original Harry Potter films only touched on. The most interesting element of the entire Fantastic Beasts series for me is how it addresses the Global Wizarding War, and this movie does take the first few steps in moving towards this World War II-era storyline.
The magic and monsters also continue to delight. Overall, I enjoyed the movie (despite key flaws) as it resonated with me far more than the first Fantastic Beasts. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) continues to shine as a fun lead, and I hope further movies do elaborate on the other such likeable and engaging characters.
The second instalment of the Fantastic Beasts series is one that definitely has a lot of fundamental flaws – the first half has a tendency to drag, and one of the key narrative points is rushed through (if only they could speak a bit slower). But what the film somewhat lacks in clarity, it makes up for with a range of full-bodied characters, a plot that (once grasped) is fun to go along with and – as one would expect from a Wizarding World film – some cute creatures that are constructed with stunning special effects.
“Eddie Redmayne is, undeniably, the highlight of this film
Eddie Redmayne is, undeniably, the highlight of this film, keeping all the different plot threads tied together in a neat little bow. His performance is so grounded in reality, that it almost seemed that Newt Scamander is separated somehow from the other characters, whose backgrounds are enveloped in magical history and lore. The relationships between all of the characters are beautifully laid out, with some serious character development occurring from those you wouldn’t expect. My one issue in terms of characters is with the writing of Tina, who is tragically reduced from a determined and intelligent woman to a mere love interest. She had so much potential in her new role as an auror, but unfortunately we barely see any of that.
That aside, The Crimes of Grindelwald is a film full of colour, heart, and characters that are entertaining and truly something to watch. And though there are flaws, it does a perfect job of setting up future instalments of this amazing series.