Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Review

The second film in the “Fantastic Beasts” series, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” gives us a clearer sense of where “Harry Potter” author-turned-screenwriter J.K. Rowling intends to go with this supposed five-film prequel arc. The first installment, 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” took us to a whole new corner of Rowling’s universe – 1920s New York City – and tried to charm fans with the same imagination while introducing a whole new cast of characters. With audiences a little warmer to these names and faces, “Crimes of Grindelwald” goes for a wider scope with more ties to the original “Potter” series, and it proves very audacious for a second step.

“The Crimes of Grindelwald” isn’t especially simple to follow. After Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes prison, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) returns to London and at the urging of his old professor, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), becomes part of a four-way manhunt in Paris to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), who was not only not destroyed in the last film, but also believed to be the last of a line of pureblood wizards.

That sounds clearer and more concise than it is – Rowling’s script feels as though it was adapted from the book she should’ve written to tell this story. The plot, and the characters especially, don’t have the breathing room on the screen that a novel would allow. Consequently, outside of Newt, the core hero group of Jacob (Dan Fogel), Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Tina (Katherina Waterston) have still yet to win us over, and the events of “Crimes of Grindelwald” rely on that, which is challenging.

Getting transported back into the Wizarding World, it turns out, counts for something, but not everything. Part of what made the “Harry Potter’ series magical was experiencing the story through the Harry, Ron and Hermione’s coming of age. The heroes here are complicated adults, or worse – adults who seem complicated, but we don’t understand why, so we aren’t sympathetic. Audiences will likely remain curious about the characters as they did after the first film, but still not feel the emotional connection.

Newt remains, however, a critical exception. His authentic awkwardness makes him a unique and special protagonist, one more interesting that Harry himself, and the kind of hero that only the Wizarding World could support given the kindness and inclusion of Rowling’s universe. He can’t carry this film given the sheer size of the ensemble, which also includes Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), who’s an auror, and Theseus’ fiancé and Newt’s old flame Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) not to mention the suitcase full of endearing magical creatures.

Depp’s Grindelwald is the next most interesting. Depp exercises a healthy measure of restraint, which is shocking given he’s playing the villain. Even with a preachy monologue that screams for him to chew scenery, he largely channels the attention he gets in this role into a calm and mysterious charisma. His measured performance might even be enough to coax those disappointed with “Crimes” into seeing at least the next installment. Similarly, Depp’s counterpoint in Law’s performance as Dumbledore also had the right amount of gravitas without trying too hard.

As making Grindelwald the title character would suggest, “Crimes” differs most from the first “Fantastic Beasts” in tone. Whereas that first film was a bit more fanciful, there’s a darker vibe to “Crimes of Grindelwald” that is much more reminiscent of the last four “Potter” films, which were also directed by David Yates, a fact that serves him well here. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between “Crimes of Grindelwald” and “Order of the Phoenix” in particular, not just aesthetically, but even in terms of the story and plot.

“Order of the Phoenix,” however, was the fifth installment, and here we are at the end of Round 2 of “Fantastic Beasts.” The carriage is way before the thestral. Although some will declare this as evidence that Rowling’s magic has run out, “Crimes of Grindelwald” still carries enough of the curiosity, wonder and a terrific hero to give her another chance, but she unquestionably needs to dial back on plot to give us a chance to really invest in these new characters. She must find a way to tell the rest of this story in a way more suitable for the screen, or the only audience she’ll have left by the end of these films are the Potteriest of Potterheads.


3.5/5 Stars


Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Directed by David Yates
Written by J.K. Rowling
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Zoe Kravitz, Dan Fogel, Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Jude Law


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