Having been captured at the end of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, the evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) soon escapes custody. At the same time, Credence (Ezra Miller), who survived the events of the first film, is on the run. Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) tasks Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) with the task of finding Credence before Grindelwald or the Ministry of Magic gets to him first.
‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ was initially going to be a trilogy, but in 2016, it was announced that it had been extended into five films. Even hard-core fans of J.K. Rowling’s works were likely apprehensive about this and as it turns out, they should have been. What we end up with in ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald’ is exactly that – it feels just like the second film in an over-extended film series.
The first ‘Fantastic Beasts’ did well to expand the ‘Wizarding World’ both in space (being set in New York rather than its London roots) and time. Its new characters – all of whom return here – were a delight, and the mid-1920s setting added another enjoyable dimension. Unfortunately, the sequel falls short in a number of areas, not least the apparent disregard of Dumbledore’s homosexuality.
Opening with an exciting, albeit somewhat disorientating, prison escape, the film’s pacing goes from full-throttle to casual coasting, with establishing scene after establishing scene stunting any growth of anticipation. The ‘beasts’ of the movie title, grant you, are still fantastic with some marvellous new ones thrown into the mix.
Redmayne remains a sweet, gentle, likeable lead, and Joshua Shea deserves kudos for doing an excellent impression of a young Newt Scamander. Queenie, played by Alison Sudol (the spits of Rachel Weisz), is somehow ditsier and very irritating consequently. Meanwhile, Dan Fogler, having provided some brilliant comedy in the first movie, has nothing to do here. The two have gone from being two of the most entertaining characters to simply unimpressive. Of the new additions, Jude Law is very good as the young Albus Dumbledore but Depp steals the show as Grindelwald. It’s clear why Rowling was determined to keep him on.
There’s little to enjoy if you haven’t been following Rowling’s works or the movies that followed. Fans though will be delighted to see a ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ reference as well as a generous amount of screen time devoted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. ‘Crimes of Grindlewald’, unfortunately, lacks the fun and light-heartedness of the first ‘Fantastic Beasts’, as well as the darkness and suspense of the ‘Harry Potter’ movies. It ends strong, but everything that comes before lacks ambition. Its intention was clearly to set up for the bigger story, and while one does look forward to what’s to come, you can’t help but wish we didn’t have such a so-so instalment in the meantime.