I am an avid fan of the Harry Potter series. When the holidays come around, there are few things more familiar and comfortable than to settle in to watch some Harry Potter at home, and I’ve read the book series cover-to-cover a couple of times. And, with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we were introduced to a new, earlier era in this cinematic universe of magic and intrigue.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second chapter in Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) adventures, carries on where the first left off. Newt is looking for Credence (Ezra Miller), who is now in search of his true identity and where he came from. Scamander, however, is not the only one looking for him. Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is on the hunt and, as the most feared and powerful dark wizard of his day, he wants Credence on his side in an effort to rule over the Wizarding and Muggle worlds.
The wizarding governments, such as those in America and France, along with the Ministry of Magic in the United Kingdom, are fearful of Grindelwald and what he could do. But their options are limited, so they are trying to convince the one man who can confront Grindelwald: Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore, at this point, is in his late forties and is teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft of Wizardry. It’s no secret that Dumbledore has a history with Grindelwald, and so the film makes it clear that he is struggling with what is happening. This is one of the reasons Dumbledore has come to rely on Scamander as a friend and trusted ally.
All in all, this story deals with family dynamics, identity, wizarding politics and war, and lays some of the foundations for what Harry Potter fans already know and love.
But the news isn’t all good.
Unfortunately, the ball has been dropped. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, completely loses itself and gets lost in redundancy. It gets too complicated too fast and has far too much to keep track of in just over a two hour period. The Crimes of Grindelwald simply fails to meet expectations and cements itself toward the bottom of the entire Harry Potter franchise with The Chamber of Secrets, which is a place nobody wants to be.
The acting by this movie’s main characters is fine. Eddie Redmayne returns as the lovable Newt and gives a performance that should be expected of him. Jude Law is perhaps a near perfect casting as a young Dumbledore, who is stylishly dressed and puts everybody else to shame. And, for as much criticism as there has been in casting him, Johnny Depp is a good villain. I just wish we had seen more of him, as well as Law, in this story.
The problem Fantastic Beasts has comes down to sloppy and lazy writing.
The story branches off in too many directions, rather than just focusing on two angles (Scamander’s and Grindelwald’s). We’re forced to deal with Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and his love interest Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol). Both of these characters should’ve been left behind with the first Fantastic Beasts. And there is a ridiculous, or riddikulus, amount of time spent with a character we’ve known about for some time, but have never seen; Nicolas Flamel. The introduction of Flamel is misplaced and really doesn’t contribute to the film in any way.
By the end of the film, the circumstances don’t seem too dire, and there are only more questions than answers.
What this film does do, on the other hand, is set the stage for an even bigger, and more important follow-up. The third installment in the Fantastic Beasts series should feature more of Dumbledore and Grindelwald, their unique relationship, and the realities they’ll have to come to terms with. Newt Scamander and Credence, of course, will have their roles to play on both sides of the fight.
If the next Fantastic Beasts hopes to redeem itself, it needs to keep the story simple. It must focus on our four main characters and pay less attention to the various side characters and their antics. Harry Potter fans and the general viewing audience deserve an epic fight in the next installment, and there must be some serious consequences by the end of it.