Dir. David Yates
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jude Law, Katherine Waterston, Johnny Depp, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Alison Sudol, and Claudia Kim
Harry Potter was my first literary love. It’s the book series that got me into reading. I adore the books, and they and will always hold a place in my heart. I am also a fan of the Harry Potter films, but as I grow older I have more problems with them. I’ve started to feel like there are more bad movies in the Harry Potter franchise than good ones. Critically, I feel I may be blinded by my love of the property. The first Fantastic Beasts movie was fine. It was a fun expansion of the universe, even if I did find Newt a little hard to connect to as a lead character. I was still excited for The Crimes Of Grindelwald though. The promise of exploring more of the wizard of world lore was enticing.
We start a couple of months after the events of Where To Find Them. Newt has published his book on the titular beasts, but is still banned from leaving the country by the ministry. Evil wizard Grindelwald has escaped custody, and a rumour has emerged that Credence has survived the events of the first movie. Albus Dumbledore asks Newt to go to Paris, where Credence is rumoured to be hiding, to protect the young boy. Grindelwald has more sinister plans for Credence, and heads to Paris in hopes to recruit him.
At this point, you’re either in with the wizarding world or your not. The film is steeped to the core in back story. Its what makes the film so hard to judge for me. As a potter fan, I love receiving all this new information about a world I’ve spent so much time in. As a film fan, it’s not that great of a film. It’s completely overstuffed, and the pacing is atrocious. There are some stand out sequences. The opening sequence where Grindelwald escapes during a prison transfer is one of the best action sequences ever mounted in the wizarding world. So is the final showdown, where Grindelwald delivers a rally to his supporters. It brings in real world stakes, whilst simultaneously reference our own history and the politics of the world today.
In both these sequences Johnny Depp is a standout. He’s casting was incredibly controversial, but he is in fine form here. Other new additions also make their presence felt. Jude Law is fantastic as a younger Dumbledore, whilst Zoë Kravitz is splendid as Leta Lestrange. If the new cast members stand out, it’s to the detriment of the returning cast. Katherine Waterston is completely wasted here, and a romantic sub plot feels so inconsequential. Dan Fogler is still one of the best parts of the series though, bring a great deal of comedy as muggle in the wizarding world. Alison Sudol was perhaps my favourite part of the first film, and she gets more to do here, but the choices made in her character development feel weirdly out of character, forced, and not at all earned. Eddie Redmyane is a much better leading man this round though, but here lies the series biggest problem.
Fantastic Beasts biggest problem is that it’s called Fantastic Beasts. When this was a stand alone movie about the adventures of Newt, that was fine. Now it’s been used as a back door into the Grindelwald story, it doesn’t quite work. It isn’t the right fit. Harry Potter worked because Harry was always integral to the plot. He was always uniquely tied in with the villain. Newt however is surplus to the plot. He has no attachment to Grindelwald. Even though he was the guy who put Grindelwald in prison, Grindelwald doesn’t even seem to care about getting revenge. If Newt seems forced into the story, the beasts he adores feel doubly so. You end up with two films that you’d quite like to see, one the adventures of Newt and his friends, the other the battle between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, but together they don’t quite gel.
There are plenty of Easter eggs for the hardcore here. Some subtle, owls delivering memos at the ministry of magic, others not so, Nicolas Flamel. They’re great to spot, but only end up bogging down an already over crowded film. You come away feeling like you would have loved to have read that as a book, but doesn’t hold together as a film. The middle is languid, and whilst it’s lovely to revisit Hogwarts, it doesn’t feel essential in what is to be a five film series. The film looks spectacular. I saw it IMAX 3D, and it was breathtaking. It might be the best visual film from director David Yates. Although, they now do so much with the magic, when you hear someone say Dumbledore is the greatest wizard of his generation, it feels slightly empty. There are no rules established in terms of who can do what. They’re lovely visuals, but they’ve started to lose some of the magic.
What we have here is a film that may sound great on paper, but in reality doesn’t work. It’s an overpacked mess, but there is so much here you are likely to enjoy at least some part of it. A more focused approach, and a better screenplay would have helped a lot. I came out wanting to talk about it, which is a good thing, but I feel my enjoyment came from being a fan of the property, not from having seen a great film.
The big talking point in this film is without a doubt the reveal at the end. We find out that Credence is Dumbledore’s brother. Or is he. It’s a tricky one to unpack. Fans will point to the fact that there is an issue with the dates, as Albus Dumbledore’s mum died before Credence would have been born, and his dad would have been in Azkaban. Some think that Grindelwald is lying, but to me the Phoenix seemed to suggest he wasn’t. Credence knew nothing about the Phoenix appearing to Dumbledore’s in need, but we, the audience were told this earlier, so for Grindelwald to be lying is just a cheap trick on the audience, and would leave me feeling slightly cheated. There’s another theory which says that Dumbledore’s sister was an obscurus, and that when she died it latched itself onto another baby which was Credence. I like this theory more than any other.
I feel like the next film will be a quest to find the deathly hallows, and that JK Rowling is using the Dumbledore brothers as a thematic double of the brothers from the deathly hallows story. Credence represents the ultimate power, and so is the elder wand. Aberforth goes into a hiding of sorts, and also survives the longest, so he is the invisibility cloak, and Albus, racked with the guilt of his sisters death is the resurrection stone.