The second of five films intended in the Fantastic Beasts series and overall tenth feature set in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World made famous by the incredibly successful Harry Potter franchise, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald once again follows Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander as he attempts to help bring down dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp).
As welcoming a treat it always is returning to the magical world we’ve known and loved for over seventeen years and despite director David Yates’ sixth directorial effort (following the last film and Potter 5-through-8), this second spin-off prequel attempting to make a quick buck off the brand name Harry Potter provides offers only a few glimpses of the incredible magic expected from the franchise, unfortunately forgetting to tell its own story in a disappointing and overstuffed film that’s more muggle than wizard.
Having escaped custody and begun gathering followers in a plan to raise up young pure-blood witches and wizards to rule over all non-magical beings, the darkest wizard of the time Gellert Grindelwald is hunted by Auror’s of both the American and British Ministries of Magic. In an effort to prevent Grindelwald’s plans, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) - the most powerful wizard of all and current defence against the dark arts Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry enlists the help of former student Newt Scamander. Unaware of the dangers that lie ahead, Newt finds himself, his suitcase full of fantastic beasts and American pals Jacob (Dan Fogler), Tina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) again caught up in an increasingly divided wizarding world where the fate of one will change the future for all.
With a screenplay again written by Rowling bringing back the entire surviving cast of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them only to separate them for the majority of the film in favour of several new characters, little makes sense when you begin to find yourself bored in a Harry Potter related adventure. Featuring way too many characters, some of which are completely unnecessary with their own subplots and some of which offer nothing of importance, this is without a doubt the first film of ten to make any character in this universe appear uninteresting.
With the eight Potter films excelling in making even the most minor character valuable to each story, Beasts manages to lose this effect in only the second instalment. Undoing almost every major plot-point of the previous film by focusing too hard on getting to films three, four and the supposed grand epic finale of five, the film lacked a coherent stand-alone story in this film. Literally, nothing of consequence happens and the big question is why bother even trying to recapture the magic Harry and his friends were able to bring audiences across the world if all we get is a boring, convoluted mess that not even dementors would touch?
A highlight within itself would be the return to Hogwarts for the first time in seven years with John Williams’ iconic Hedwig Theme playing. Perhaps the best part of the film is the brilliance Jude Law brings to the role of young Dumbledore, seventy years before he would go on to meet the young Harry Potter. Sharing a similar trusted mentor teacher/student relationship with Newt as the two unlikely friends set in motion a plan to thwart Grindelwald’s plans for evil, the film’s few and far between great moments mostly come from getting a look at the past the two shared before their paths would change forever. Helped along nicely with Toby Regbo and Jamie Campbell Bower reprising their respective roles of the even younger Dumbledore and Grindelwald from 2010’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 and the only actors from Potter also appearing in Beasts, Law could honestly headline his own Dumbledore film if they let him, and they should.
The usual beautiful cinematography and dazzling visual effects these films are known for, combined with outstanding costume design and enough HP throwbacks to keep some, if not many massive Potterheads happy, The Crimes of Grindelwald doesn’t quite commit any crimes against 2018’s cinema landscape but it goes without saying the word fantastic belongs only in the title.
Going so far to even contradict certain events taking place in the eight aforementioned films and depressingly nothing like the trailers make it look, an impressive ensemble cast also featuring Ezra Miller, Zoe Kravitz, Callum Turner, Claudia Kim and new “Fantastic Beasts” Newt has hidden away may be just enough to prevent this from being completely forgotten among the better films in the series. Things will need to get better for 2020’s Fantastic Beasts 3, especially if Warner Brothers, J.K. Rowling and David Yates aren’t ready to accept the possibility Harry Potter should have ended on the high note it clearly did with 2011’s Deathly Hallows - Part 2.