You can never win them all, but when sometimes you lose more then you expect…
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald to put it plainly, is just a mess. Dropping the whimsy and awkward charm of the first installment for grim severity, WAY too much useless exposition and filler material as the overall narrative barely takes a step forward as we’re given swerves and plot points which get thrown out the window almost as soon as they are introduced and it can only make you hope that J.K. Rowling is trying to cram as much good stuff as she in can towards the end since this is only the 2nd of 5 installments in this franchise.
At the end of the first film, the powerful Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) was captured by MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America), with the help of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). But, making good on his threat, Grindelwald escaped custody and has set about gathering followers, most unsuspecting of his true agenda: to raise pure-blood wizards up to rule over all non-magical beings. In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world.
This film is simply trying to hard as it over explains itself far too often and buggers up any sort of genuine emotion that was fostered from the first installment. While I have no doubt that future installments will rectify some issues, this film was basically 135 minutes of overwrought exposition that could have been summed up in about 45 minutes. To put it even simpler, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is just needlessly dull far more often than it should be.
Director David Yates can’t honestly be called to task on this one because everything does look quite good, with solid visuals and a decent flow about it all. It’s not like anyone else really could have done much differently as he certainly does have a solid grasp on the core of the material and where it needs to go.
The weakness is in the script and may very well be the first genuine sign of damage in the previous Teflon armour of author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling. It’s quite easily possible that she’s simply taken on far too much as developments that are set up in the first film more or less get thrown out the window for some very grim developments and the characters then we met and grew to enjoy get dialed down for the sake of moving the narrative making sure that we can’t get emotionally invested in them all that much.
Someone needs to remind Rowling that screenplays and novels are two VERY different things and there’s just too much filler material as she skates around the various story developments. It’s just a messy case of setting up a larger story arch with characters that for the most part we are already familiar with. In the films 135 minute run time there’s a solid 45 minutes of actual things that we need to know with 90 or so minutes of useless padding around it all in order to just pass time and create more pages for us to sit through. When a story starts to turn in on itself and tell us things that we just saw aren’t important any more, and it does it without an ounce of whimsy or even a sly nod to the camera…that isn’t clever story telling filled with narrative twists, it’s just more or less wasting our time because that kind of reveal in a novel plays out so much more differently in a novel then it would on the screen. Rowling doesn’t quite have a total grip on storytelling in the visual medium and being locked into do the 5 films on this franchise may actually end up hurting the overall product in the series.
In addition to all that, the characters in this film feel so incredibly slight and hardly add anything to the experience. The boyish timid charm from Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander becomes mildly pathetic, while the likes of Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol and Ezra Miller who all return for this second installment really get next to nothing to do while Zoe Kravitz who is really the only person to get any expanded screen time from the first installment just plays it all way too rigid and coldly for us to care why she’s even there in the first place. Jude Law joins the ensemble as a young Albus Dumbledore so that he can wink and nod at the camera until his character gets something genuinely important to do (which won’t be until at least the next installment) and it feels like a telegraphed moment having him come along so early in the entire narrative arc.
Johnny Depp does return to reprise his role as Gellert Grindelwald these three years in the storyline later, only to escape from prison in a fairly uninspired fashion is fine. Taking his recent scandal in the news from last year aside from one second, Depp is fine here as the quite, somewhat menacing understated villain because in all honesty his days as a leading man Hollywood are more or less behind him. He’ll settle back into supporting roles and character spots reasonably well but for better or for worse his days as Captain Jack leading a Billion Dollar film franchise are now in the rear view mirror as his character; while the actual focus of the film, we still haven’t learned all that much about either and more than likely always play further down the line in our scale of importance for the characters existing in this universe. He’s not the primary focus, he’s just a player in the ensemble and in that sense he blends in just fine.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald will undoubtedly still rope in the hardcore fans of the wizarding worlds, however for the casual fan of the franchise the reality is that this film just doesn’t work on so many basic levels and it needs to get back to get us engaged again with the characters rather than spouting off a bunch of blather about family trees that a good chunk of the audience is going to give a goddamn about anyway.