Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the story of the eponymous dark wizard (Johnny Depp) and his quest for power to disrupt the relative peace that exists between the wizarding community and the non-magical citizens of the world, often referred to as Muggles. One of the keys to Grindelwald’s success is the seduction of Credence (Ezra Miller) to his cause. Credence is an obscurus, an incredibly powerful magical entity, who has lost his way in the world feeling isolated and without a family. As such, several interested parties are searching for him including the accomplished wizard, Professor Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne).
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What works in The Crimes of Grindelwald is the cast and the relationship-building. For those who found Newt slightly grating in the first film (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Redmayne has smoothed out the character a bit to make Scamander more relatable and likable. Newt’s unbridled optimism coupled with universal acceptance of all is a core quality that shines much brighter, giving much better justification for those admire him dearly. While having limited screen-time, Law is pitch-perfect as Dumbledore imbuing in the iconic character all the warmth and wisdom that fans will recognize, but with a dash of cockiness that is both appropriate and highly enjoyable. And finally, Depp turns in a welcomed restrained performance as the dark wizard Grindelwald. Those fearful of an over-the-top caricature, or a rehash of previous Harry Potter villains, should take solace that Grindelwald is tactful and calculating. His motives and arguments are also rather compelling, which makes the brewing animosity among wizards believable and palpable.
In addition to the leads, other relationships are developed in strong ways. First, some audiences felt as though the first Fantastic Beasts had, to be pointed, too many beasts. In Crimes of Grindelwald, the connection between Scamander and creatures is still important, but the interactions are far less forced and much more relevant to the overall narrative. Several of the supporting characters have returned as well for the sequel including Jacob (Dan Fogler) as Newt’s friend who brings comedic relief to the proceedings as an awe-struck Muggle serving as an audience surrogate. Jacob’s relationship with his witch girlfriend Queenie (Alison Sudol) is particularly fascinating as it serves as a proxy for civil rights issues of the era.
While The Crimes of Grindelwald corrects may of its predecessors’ missteps, it unfortunately also creates new issues. To start, this sequel is bursting with subplots, characters, and mysteries, most of which end up being unnecessary. Entire character arcs end up being elaborate misdirects, which bloat the long runtime. Other nods and connections to the previous films (the eight Harry Potter movies) range from cute quick cameos to long setups which don’t quite have the payoff, especially for audiences less familiar with some of the more obscure references. In addition, The Crimes of Grindelwald desperately wants to create a super expansive interconnected universe and while that effort is noble and audacious, it makes this second film feel wholly incomplete and might leave many feeling unsatisfied with more questions than answers. This second movie feels more like a book chapter than a standalone film.
The Crimes of Grindelwald is frustratingly both a course correction and jumble at the same time, which leaves some question as to how loyal the general populace will respond to further movies in the franchise. Right now, the prospect of four more of these movies might sound tedious and exhausting to anyone who isn’t already invested. That said, those individuals who love the wizarding world who can be patient with the developments will likely find bright glimmers of joy and nostalgia along the ride.
Recommended if you enjoyed: Fantastic Beast And Where to Find Them, Solo, The Deathly Hallows: Part 1